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Chris Hadfield: Ten Questions for the Astronaut-Turned-Star

Chris Hadfield: Ten Questions for the Astronaut-Turned-Star

“Good morning, Earth!” That is how Colonel Chris Hadfield—writing on Twitter—woke up the world every day while living for five months aboard the International Space Station. Through his 21-years as an astronaut, three spaceflights and 2600 orbits of Earth, Colonel Hadfield has become a worldwide sensation, harnessing the power of social media to make outer space accessible to millions and infusing a sense of wonder into our collective consciousness not felt since humanity first walked on the Moon. Called “the most famous astronaut since Neil Armstrong,” Colonel Hadfield continues to bring the marvels of science and space travel to everyone he encounters. The Australian newspaper recently caught up with Col. Hadfield to get answers to some of their most burning questions:

Do you miss space?

Not really. I lived it extremely fully, flew three times in space and served 21 years in the Astronaut Office at NASA. It’s like you’re on top of Kilimanjaro and someone says, “Do you miss climbing?” I’m on the top; I can see things more clearly now.

You’re a Canadian who spent five months as International Space Station commander in 2012-13. What steps did you climb to get there? Scuba diver, downhill ski instructor, a fighter pilot intercepting Soviet bombers, a test pilot.

When you performed David Bowie’s Space Oddity in space, masses of people began to follow you on social media. Why were you so savvy? Long before that, when NASA announced that mission’s crew, one of my kids said, “How come it’s not in the news?” I said, “What do you mean? It’s on the radio, the TV, the newspapers.” They said, “Yeah, but not the news we read. We’re on Reddit and Twitter and Facebook – can we put it on there for you?” That really got it started.

You have 1.35 million followers on Twitter. What’s the attraction? It’s a two-way conversation that can be extremely open and honest and all round the planet. The great beauty is you’re not forcing it down anybody’s throat, you just say, “I am doing some really cool stuff here, you’re welcome to join me. You don’t have to buy anything, or subscribe to anything.”

Your belief in openness springs from the first moon landing, doesn’t it? The Soviets at the time would only tell people when they had been successful at something, so it became a stunt instead of a human experience. Whereas the Americans for better or for worse broadcast it live. It was the original reality television, unscripted. It set the standard for me, that if you’re going to do something magnificent, don’t wait until it turns out nicely – let people judge for themselves.

You talk about “thinking like an astronaut”. What does that mean? It applies to how you deal with danger in your life, how you deal with fear, and the relationship between the two. How do you prepare to do something for a long time that will probably never happen (as astronauts have to) and yet still enjoy what you are doing along the way?

So, how do we think like astronauts? At the outset you might identify what you dream about being. But how do you convert a fond wish into reality? What are the discrete steps you take? You don’t get chosen as an astronaut, you turn yourself into one. That applies to everyone.

Who inspires you? When someone finds out what my profession is, all normal conversation stops. I learnt long ago to talk about the other person instead. The delightful side-effect of that was learning that every person has done heroic things. It makes me stay optimistic and inspired.

You have an album of songs you recorded in space coming out. What’s behind that? I’ve played in bands for 20 years. The key part is to try and understand what you are doing through art and to express it that way.

You travel constantly. What happened to settling down? My wife and I have a home in Toronto. But I teach at a university, there are book tours, I work with schools almost every day and people ask me to speak all around the world. I was incredibly privileged to be able to do this thing on behalf of so many other people, so it’s just a choice of what do I want to do with that experience. I think it’s the fifth time I’ve “retired”.

Jill Rowbotham/The Australian/June, 2015