There’s been a lot of mention lately about our very own Commander Chris Hadfield and his time on the International Space Station. As I write this, he’s somewhere above the Earth in a Soyuz spacecraft, about three hours from home. By the time he lands in Kazakhstan, we will know if the Toronto Maple Leafs have made it to another round in the Stanley Cup playoffs (he’s a fan), and his sojourn aboard the ISS will be complete.
I won’t try to duplicate some of the amazing posts that have appeared about his time aboard the ISS, except to note that every nerd in the world got the shivers when he carried on Twitter and phone conversations with various members of the cast of Star Trek, and that his words during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session should be repeated to every student at some point in their life.
What I have now is a full-blown crush on Chris Hadfield – no, not the icky, stalker-y kind, but an honest, respectful hero crush. It’s easy to see why – he’s an intelligent man, who loves what he does with a passion, and who is devoted to his family and friends. In fact, his son works with him to run his Twitter account from space, and has been his spokesperson when his dad has had other duties. Responsible, hard-working and with a cheeky grin and a great sense of humour, Hadfield has been endlessly patient with the kids he’s talked with, and, by all accounts, has done a bang-up job on the ISS.
He’s been a great media spokesperson for the space program, completing countless interviews during his time away, including one with CBC’s own Jian Ghomeshi. Ghomeshi was, if you’ll pardon the pun, a little star-struck to be able to speak to Hadfield from space, but they had a great conversation. When asked for the reason behind his passion for sharing his experiences in space, Hadfield had this to say:
“This is something not only personally amazing to be part of, but it is a new thing within the human experience. And it’s way too good of an experience to keep to myself. It’s something that I think is really important to share. Ever since my first space flight, 17 years ago, I’ve been trying to describe to people just how incredible it is to see our world this way, and what it means to us as a species to start leaving Earth. And now I have the time–this isn’t a shuttle assembly flight–this is living in space and so I have the time to try to share it with everyone. And so I’m doing everything I can to ensure that people really get a sense of what it means and what it’s like.”
~ Transcript of Q Interview between Jian Ghomeshi and Chris Hadfield
There’s a lot of reasons why he’s become a modern-day icon for a lot of people – see some of the awesomeness above, or check the internet for more – but here’s a few simple reasons why Hadfield is my new hero.
* He has inspired a generation of children to actually reach for the stars – I was fortunate enough to be in Milton with friends when their son asked me if I wanted to come to school with him. When I asked him why, he told me that he was ‘talking to Chris’ today and that I should come. Finally the story came out – just days after arriving at the International Space Station, Hadfield had planned to carve twenty-five minutes out of his day to talk with students at the elementary school named in his honour – and the school attended by my friends’ son. I couldn’t go to school with him, but I did walk him to school, complete with a large awkward bag What was inside? The boy’s own astronaut outfit, one of hundreds worn by students to show Chris that they wanted to be an astronaut just like him. Take a minute and think about that: 800 kids, linked to the International Space Station, talking with real-life astronauts and learning about life in space. Just imagine the dreams that were sparked that day – and who might be walking in space thirty years from now.
* He loves music unabashedly, and even wrote a song with the Barenaked Ladies to sing with kids. There’s a great program that runs every May in Canada, via Music Makes Us and the CBC. It’s called “Music Mondays”, and basically that means that every participating school across Canada sings the same song at the same time (http://www.musicmonday.ca). Past musicians who have written the songs for this event have included Serena Ryder (Sing) and Luke Ducet (Tomorrow is Coming). This year, Hadfield joined with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies to write a song for the event, entitled I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing). They then recorded a video to promote the song, and, on the day of the event, Hadfield beamed himself in via a live feed to the Ontario Science Centre, thus singing along with thousands of kids across the country. Again – picture it: thousands and thousands of kids, singing together, with a song about science. Not only is the whole concept incredible, but the song’s kind of catchy as well!
* He’s not afraid to put himself out there for the things he loves From science experiments to showing what happens to tears when you cry in space, to wearing the green and singing “Danny Boy” on St. Patrick’s Day, Hadfield hasn’t been afraid to do whatever it takes to get people interested in space and science. I love that he’s set up and completed dozen of experiments for students to view online, answering questions and making science the coolest subject in town again. He’s been an incredible ambassador, not only for Canada, NASA and the space program, but for educators and scientists world-wide. Oh, and what was his final video from space? Only a remake of the iconic Bowie tune, “Space Oddity”, approved and tweeted by Bowie himself, and using Bowie’s own musician (a fellow Sarnia native). Haunting and beautiful, it uses some of the SoundCloud images Hadfield has recorded on the ISS as background sound, and his own vocals and video recording. Anyone can post their own version of their favourite song online, but let’s face it – THAT song, when you are an actual spaceman wins the day for awesome.
I’ll leave you with Hadfield’s own final words from the ISS. Tweeting from space, he posted a final shot of Earth, with the caption “Spaceflight finale: To some this may look like a sunset. But it’s a new dawn.” As always, Hadfield is looking ahead to the next challenge in his life, even as he finishes what has had to be one of the most incredible experiences of his life. True heroes don’t rest on their laurels, only looking back on what they have done. Instead, they continue to look ahead to see where they can make a difference and continue the work that they love. Thanks, Commander, for five great months of discovery, exploration and learning, as well as some pretty great music.