Go Away With ... Col. Chris Hadfield
Astronaut Chris Hadfield says that he got an early start in flying, thanks to his father who was an airline pilot. (NASA / October 29, 2013)
Well versed in social media, Hadfield, 54, had a strong following of science fans before he went up in space. But he garnered the attention of millions of music fans when he released his rendition of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on YouTube, which was recorded from the International Space Station during his last mission earlier this year. The video went viral and earned kudos from no less than Bowie himself.
Now retired, Hadfield is back in Canada with his wife, and is busy promoting his book, "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything" (Little, Brown and Company, $28). Fans may stay in touch with Hadfield via Twitter at https://twitter.com/CmdrHadfield.
Q. You've been to outer space. Are other trips kind of mundane compared to that experience?
A. Everyday life isn't boring to me. It's what you make of it. Being weightless and going on a spacewalk would be a pretty fantastic tourist destination for anyone, and I know I did something that a lot of people dream about. I feel very fortunate to have done so. But, right now, I'm sitting on the porch at our cottage with the river flowing by and it is heaven on earth. I try to enjoy wherever I am.
Q. How long had you been planning to sing "Space Oddity" in outer space?
A. The song wasn't part of a master plan. It was my son, Evan, who said, "You have to record it!" I didn't think it was a good idea, because the song's about an astronaut dying in outer space. I said if you rewrite the words so that he lives, I'll do it. We did a great audio recording and Evan said, "OK, now you have to do a video in space!" We got a lot of positive reaction, including from David Bowie, who sent an email saying that he really liked it. It really was a delightful sequence of events. I wish I had done it earlier in the mission, though, because you can see the direct effect of the number of people who went to the NASA website after the video came out.
Q. What do you think about Virgin Galactic offering trips to outer space for the laymen?
A. I think it's great. Early on, aviation was very dangerous and expensive. Not everyone could afford to fly. Space flight is new and dangerous and not everyone's going to be able to afford it right away. But (Virgin's) Richard Branson is doing his best to find a way to turn it into something that people can do. It's not an easy thing to start up. I wish them great success.
One of the astronauts I know is flying that spaceship for Branson's company, so they've got good, experienced professionals. It's not always the first companies that are the ones to be successful when they start a new endeavor. But someone has to have the guts to take that first to step into a new area like that. Branson is a wealthy and brave guy. When you show people something that's barely possible and they want to do it and make it safe, that's awesome. As an astronaut where everything was already set up for me, space was the ultimate travel vacation where you move into someone else's home -- kind of like the ultimate vacation for rental by owner. (Laughs)
Q. Do you ever get car sick?
A. (Laughs) I started out as a pilot when I was a teenager, and then a military pilot and then a fighter pilot and then I went to test pilot school for the U.S. Air Force and Navy. When I first started flying jets, I'd come back on the verge of throwing up. That happened when I first flew in space. It's a natural reaction. Your body is trying to figure out why you feel so weird and it thinks you ate some neurological poison, so your body wants to get rid of it and you want to lie down and metabolize. The motion sickness is really just your body trying to protect you from something you don't understand. Space flight's the same way.
Q. What was the first trip you took as a child?
A. My dad was an airline pilot, so I've traveled a lot from a young age. I've been to more than 50 countries and lived in other countries. It was a real eye opener. We grew up in a farmhouse, and one of us kids would say, "Why don't we take Friday off and go somewhere?" And then we'd all fly to Bermuda or Barbados and spend two days and come back Sunday night and go back to our normal lives. We were very lucky. When 747s came out, I was about 11 and my brother was about 13. We wanted to go for a ride in one and we convinced our parents to drop us off at the Toronto Airport and we flew to Miami without our parents and stayed for an hour and then we came back home. It was fun.
Q. How important do you think it is for young people to experience travel?
A. Very. The biggest adventure for me when I was growing up was when I was 17. I finished high school early and worked for about six months to save money for my trip, and then I went to Europe for six months. I hitchhiked, pitched a tent and had an adventure. I turned 18 during that trip. That was a wonderful education for me about learning history and getting to actually see it. I'd watch tourists get off a bus, stay for 10 minutes and then leave. I felt so lucky to be able to stay as long as I wanted. I'm sure there are plenty of tourists' photos where I'm sitting there looking all scruffy.
Q. Is there anything that you take on your normal travels that you brought with you up in space?
A. Space is very limited, so I could bring about a shaving's kit worth of stuff. I brought up a few personal things with me -- little mementos from family and friends that I'm returning to them now. But I always travel with my guitar. There's even one up in space. I took it around when I went to Europe at 17. I climbed a mountain in Norway with a guitar in hand. You don't know a word of their language, play a song, hand them the guitar and they can play it and make up a song, and it's a wonderful way to communicate. Music is a wonderful language all its own.
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at http://www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow "Go Away With..." on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)
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