One of the biggest perks of my time working at NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) in Houston was the opportunity to mingle with a large portion of the astronaut corps. There was always a steady stream of folks in blue jumpsuits who came to the NBL to train for spacewalks. Other space flyers were poolside in supporting roles. It didn't take much time working with the astronauts to figure out that they do not fit a rigid mold. Sure, all of them that I met were extremely smart people and habitual overachievers. Beyond that, they were subject to the same variables that you would find in any other group of humans.
They Are Only People
Some astronauts were laser-focused on the tasks ahead, while others seemed to take a more relaxed approach. Many were silly jokesters, but a few were more solemn. The vast majority of astronauts were gracious and easy to work with.
I think I speak for most of my NBL colleagues when I say that Clayton Anderson was one of our favorite astronauts to have around. He was always quick to shatter any illusions of rank with a self-effacing joke. The next minute, you might find yourself the target of a publicly-delivered, yet good-natured verbal jab from Clay that made you feel like part of his inner circle. Even in such a lighthearted atmosphere, the work never suffered. That was critical, since underwater training at the NBL is full of deadly hazards. Working with Clay convinced me that you don't have to be stuffy to be a perfectionist.
I was completely flummoxed when a few of my colleagues from the Mission Control Center (MCC) told me that Clay's reputation among flight controllers wasn't nearly as rosy as his NBL image. Some of NASA's "console jocks" felt that he was a troublemaker and difficult to work with. I later learned that there were widely differing opinions of Clay even among his comrades in the astronaut corps. I was never able to reconcile the negative things I heard about Clay with my positive personal experiences working with him. Sometimes I wasn't even sure that we were talking about the same person!