Much SF has us live vicariously through the actions of heroes, military figures, spies, wily con men, and/or people driven to uncharacteristic action by desperate circumstances. (Certainly two SF sagas with a superficial resemblance -- Hollywood's Stargate franchise and Frederik Pohl's Gateway and its sequels -- are within that tradition.) Thunderbird does not.
Would I have made the same decisions -- about what to explore, or not to explore; what gear to bring along, or to leave behind; in my reactions to various seen and suspected aliens -- as did the main characters? Maybe not. In fact, probably not. And that, IMO, is the point of the novel.
Bottom line: Thunderbird is a fun, fast-reading, and thought-provoking book.