Cmdr Chris Hadfield
Commander Chris Hadfield is a retired Canadian astronaut who was the first Canadian to walk in space. He is a former Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot, has flown two space shuttle missions and served as commander of the International Space Station. Commander Hadfield gained worldwide fame during his time on the ISS. As well conducting a wide range of scientific experiments he chronicled his time on the station on social media with incredible images, stories and David Bowie covers.
It’s been an incredible sequence of events but it happened.
On becoming interested by space and science
My earliest memories that have to do with science probably have to do with science fiction. I think it was that real childhood blending of what is real and what isn’t, the Calvin and Hobbes view of the world, and I had a lot of Hobbes I think. The science fiction that was prevalent when I was that age was Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey and to think about that Arthur C. Clarke kind of vision, the Stanley Kubrick portrayal of it, Star Trek, which was like the best of Tom Mix and Gunsmoke but put in space, and it was all just very heady, thought provoking, interesting stuff for a kid. But the reason it was really interesting was because overlaid on top of it was the race to the Moon and the actual first people flying in space, the cosmonauts and the astronauts through Gemini and Vostok and Apollo, right about the time that I was really becoming aware of the world, eight ,nine and ten years old. In fact, the summer that I was nine and turned ten was when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the Moon and that to me was science in action, science fiction had suddenly become science fact, and to have a combination like that was just intoxicating.
On becoming an astronaut
So if you’re a nine year old kid who’s just watched Neil Armstrong and then Buzz Aldrin climb out of the Eagle lander and step onto Tranquility Base and leave those first dusty footprints, what do you do? I was inspired, I thought, that’s the coolest thing ever, I want to be Neil Armstrong, I want to be a guy named Buzz, how cool can life be? But how do you turn yourself – especially your Canadian self – into an astronaut, a moonwalker? There was no route, unless I was going to go become a Soviet or an American, there was no way to do it. But I resolved that night after watching those guys on the television then going outside and looking up at the trees and looking at the Moon and then thinking, two guys are asleep on the Moon! That’s just so incongruous, how can that be? So, I was just nine, I didn’t have a big picture, but I definitely resolved the direction that I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up and I guess I just kept it simple. I look at Neil and Buzz, they’re not fat, OK, I won’t let myself get fat. You look at Neil and Buzz, they’re both pilots, you fly in space, OK, I’m going to have to learn how to fly. And they were military fighter pilot test pilots, that all sounded great. And they’d gone to university and studied things, I mean Buzz had a PhD out of MIT, obviously I was going to have to go to university. So that just kind of set a direction and I made lots of dead end turns and didn’t really know what I was doing and after high school took a year off and bummed around Europe and thought about it all. But then when I was 18 or 19 I decided OK, I’m going to really do that and started pursuing it, went to military college, joined the air force, took engineering, became a pilot and then a fighter pilot, then went to test pilot school and became a test pilot, did another university degree, did a bunch of other things along the way just in case Canada someday had astronauts and amazingly enough right at the zenith of my test piloting career, just after some really successful test programs, Canada put an ad in the newspapers that said “Wanted: astronauts”. It was before the internet and it was in the newspapers and the magazines and so I answered the ad – along with 5,000 plus other people – and got hired. So somehow I took myself from that nine year old kid just choosing a general direction in life to moulding and whittling and turning myself into someone that the Canadian Space Agency would eventually hire to fly in space. It’s been an incredible sequence of events but it happened.
On his first mission into space
I was lucky enough to fly in space three times. The first time was to fly on a space shuttle, Space Shuttle Atlantis, launching out of Florida and our job was to go build part of the Russian space station, Mir. Mir means “peace” and it also means “the world”, it’s a nice, one of those double meaning words in Russian, to name their first space station both the world and peace, and we had to make it adaptable so a space shuttle could dock. There was this big docking adaptor, it was about five metres long, about a metre across at the hatch and we were going to take it up with the shuttle in the back, go up to orbit, I was going to reach out with the big cannon arm, robot arm, grab it out of the back, take it and attach it like a big periscope on the top of the space shuttle. We were going to drive the whole space shuttle up the next day and plug ourselves into Mir and then at the end of it, detach from our end of that docking module so that every shuttle after that had an adaptor on Mir.
Crazy to do, I mean no one had ever done anything like that with a shuttle, the delicacy of manoevering, trying to see, how do you dock something five or eight metres above your head, how do you plug it into a big forest of a space station accurately with extremely tight tolerances with a little tiny window of time? It was a lot of work to invent how to do all that stuff but we launched in ‘95, November ’95, and assembled it OK – the way we assembled it was very weird, we just held it in place and then fired the big thrusters on the shuttle to slam up into it, to just let the arm sort of flex in the inertia, because you couldn’t get the arm going fast enough to attach it so it was actually easier to hold it still with the arm and slam up with the shuttle to lock it into place. And then we drove the whole shuttle up and managed to find the right target and docked it with Mir and spent a couple of days aboad Mir, played a little guitar abroad Mir, that was fun, delivered a lot of supplies back and forth, shared some life with the guys living up there, undocked from our end and we were just so proud, backing away at the end to see that we had built, using a combination of Canadian robotics and American spaceships to be able to build part of a Russian space station. Pretty historic early co-operation between a bunch of nations and a real delight for a first time astronaut, for a rookie astronaut, to be part of that crew.