Chris Austin Hadfield OC OOnt MSC CD is a retired Canadian astronaut who was the first Canadian to walk in space. An engineer and former Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot, Hadfield has flown two space shuttle missions and served as commander of the International Space Station.
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It has been almost two years since my last AMA, and I think with all I've had happen in the past little while it would be nice to take some time to come back and chat. The previous AMAs can be found here and here. If I'm unable to get to your question today, there's a chance that you'll be able to find my responses there.
Before our conversation, I’d like to highlight three things that I've been up to recently, as they might be of interest to you.
The first is Generator (fb event). Happening on the 28th (in 5 days) at Toronto's historic Massey Hall, it is a blend of comedy, science and music in the style of Brian Cox and Robin Ince's yearly event at the Hammersmith Apollo in London. The intent is to create a space for incredible, esoteric ideas and performers to reach a mainstream audience. For example, Marshall Jones' slam poem Touchscreen is undeniably fascinating, but through an uncommon medium that makes seeing it inaccessible. I want Toronto to have a platform where performers can meet a large audience more interested in their message than their medium. It isn’t a show that is easy to describe, but I think it will be one that is memorable. While I wouldn't call it a charity event in the way that term is often used, the proceeds from the show will be going to local non-profits that are making definitive, positive change. If you're in the area, we'd love to have you there. The more people come out, the stronger we can make it in the future. I'm really looking forward to it.
The second is my recent album, Space Sessions: Songs From a Tin Can, of which I am immensely proud. The vocals and guitar were recorded in my sleeping pod on station, and then later mixed with a complement of talented artists here on Earth. The final music video of the album, from the song Beyond the Terra, will be released in the coming days. My proceeds from the album will be going to support youth music education in Canada.
The third is my upcoming animated science-comedy series, "It's Not Rocket Science", which will be a released on YouTube and is aimed at changing the talking points on a number of contentious public views of scientific concepts. For example, encouraging vaccination by explaining smallpox, not vaccines, or explaining climate change via the Aral Sea, rather than CO2. While it is still in production, we have set up a Patreon account to provide background updates to how things are progressing with the talented group making it a reality, as well as helping to cover the costs of keeping it free to view.
With that said - ask me anything!
do you know if David Bowie ever heard that Space Oddity cover?
He sure has. He said it was the most poignant version of the song ever done. High praise!
Hello Commander Hadfield,
I'm a 22 year old Canadian wondering how to maximize my potential to be an astronaut. I have approximately one and a half years until I will have completed my Bachelors of Physics.
I have looked for internship opportunities with the CSA, but I have not found very much about them.
I have seriously considered joining the Canadian Armed Forces upon my graduation, with the hopes of attaining my Masters Degree from RMC.
Essentially, I am wondering what you think is the best way to equip myself with the skill set necessary to be an astronaut. I have taken some advice from your book, such as eating well and training more often, but I'm looking for some more substantial advice. What would you recommend?
Learn other languages, learn to fly, learn to scuba dive, learn medical training, always be pursuing new skills. There is no one specific path to becoming an astronaut. The best thing you can do is train yourself to enjoy building up the skills that end up defining who you are.
Becoming the thing you dream of is a long shot, no matter what. The key is to HAVE a dream, a destination, a personal definition of perfection in life, and then to use that end goal to help decide what to do next. It is not the end goal that changes you, but the summed total of each of the small, daily decisions. Actively pursue your dreams by deliberate small choices - what to eat, to read, how to exercise, what to study, where to go, when to change direction. It's amazing where all the little decisions can lead you.
Never hate what you are doing. Make the most of it, find pleasure in the nuance and the art of it, become better at it, laugh at it, make it one of the things that you can do. If it's truly insufferable, then you must change and do something else. But get the most out of each step of life as you go. There's always more there than you think.
And celebrate success now! Don't wait to walk on the Moon to notice the thousand small victories that got you there. Rejoice in each new skill, every discovered idea, each small improvement you make in yourself.
All the choices and ideas you list make sense. Do what is closest to your heart, the ones that make you the most excited. That way you are inevitably turning yourself into who you want to be.
Edit: Sorry for the confusion on my reply. I had answered a similar question elsewhere, and addressed the more philosophical side. To be specific: Get an advanced technical degree, at least a Masters, in a field that interests you. Your work in Physics is fine. It's no so much what you've learned, but a proven ability to learn complex things. Maintain your health - eat and exercise to keep a strong, fit body. Likely worth getting a physical, to know what peculiarities you may have - heart, vision, height, weight, etc. You can then compare that to the required standards of the various space agencies. Once school is complete, work in a field where your decisions matter, have consequence, to prove your ability to make good decisions. It's why the CSA hires pilots, doctors, people who have managed programs, etc. Then gain other skills - scuba, flying, languages, climbing, engine/computer repair, etc. What might make you stand out in selection, and useful on a spaceship? But I strongly stand by the first section I wrote. There is no direct path, so be sure that you are doing what is important to you.
What is one aspect of life on Earth that you appreciated more after having been in space?
Orbiting Earth 2593 times, what I really came to appreciate was the commonality of the human experience. From orbit you see the repeated patterns of human settlement and civilisation, and inevitably start to sense that each of us inherently wants the same things out of life - joy, grace, time and stability to think, better opportunities for our children, laughter, someone to love. The precept of 'Us' and 'Them' is one that is taught; it's not the fundamental reality. Seeing the whole world as 1 place every 92 minutes drove that home within me, forever.
Since there are no showers in space - isn't the ISS smelling like 30 guys after a night full of computer games? Or are you juts getting used to it?
I expected the Space Station to smell bad, like a closed-in place with unwashed people, but in fact, it doesn't. In 6 months there I never smelled body odour. We sponge bath every day, and the air purification and circulation system is very good. It was a pleasant surprise. The Space Shuttle and the Soyuz, on the other hand, both got a little ripe.
My time is gone - sorry! Thanks to ALL for the questions, observations and discussion. I hope to see some of you at Generator on the 28th, and if not, somewhere else soon after - it's a small planet we share. Thanks again!
How long until we finally get to Mars in your opinion?
I don't think we will send people to Mars with the engines that currently exist. The transit time with chemical rockets is so long that the complexity and thus the risk becomes prohibitive. Before anyone is truly ready to fund that human voyage, we will need engines that can thrust the whole way (accel/decel), and thus cut the transit time down to something reasonable. When will that happen? Maybe soon, it is just up to all of us.
When you first get into orbit and the 3rd stage cuts off, does it feel like you are falling or is it more of a floating experience? Does this change over time? Did you ever wake up from a bad dream or regular dream and freak out because you are falling?
When the rocket stops, it feels like you are being pulled upwards. We're so used to the subtle inevitability of gravity, its absence makes you feel like you're floating.
Thanks for doing another AMA! I have two questions:
Did you watch the film “The Martian” and if so what did you think of it?
Are you a fan of the HBO series “Game of Thrones” and if so who’s your favorite character? Thanks Chris!
Yes, I liked the Martian very much. I liked it better the 2nd time, in fact, without the 3D glasses on. Matt Damon is convincing as an astronaut, and Andy Weir wrote an excellent book.
How long did it take you to getting used to sleeping in space?
It's more natural than you may think. Perhaps it's a throwback to the womb. I slept very well from the 1st night.
I know for rocketry, weight is a huge issue. And I'm sure space is limited on the ISS. I've seen the videos of you with a guitar up there, but how much personal stuff are you allowed to bring? Did you get a special exception to bring your guitar?
It was the NASA psychologists who put the guitar on the Space Station. They recognized that music and art are fundamental and necessary for mental health, and for the soul. That Larrivee Parlour guitar was taken to the Station on the Shuttle in August 2001, and has been there ever since. It gets played almost every day - lots of astronauts and cosmonauts are also musicians. I was VERY happy to have it there - a wonderful link with home in an otherwise extremely remote existence.
What is the most mind-blowing fact you know about space?
The age of the universe astounds me. As humans we are really bad at large numbers. When I hear someone say 13 billion, what I hear most is '13'. I just don't have an intuitive feel for a billion. But to think that universe was here for 9 BILLION years already before our Sun began shining and the Earth coalesced into its rockiness amazes me. With my 10 fingers and toes and perhaps 80 years of life, the enormity of time threatens the gaskets of my mind.
You had such an adrenaline fuelled career, is it hard to 'top'? Ever feel bored by civilian life after being a test and fighter pilot and astronaut?
Actually, test pilots and astronauts try and NEVER have adrenaline in our veins while we're working. If we do, it means we have made a mistake or weren't ready for what was happening - and that will kill us. The real joy of the job is in becoming capable of doing something extremely difficult, and doing it well. There is no real desire to 'top' anything. The world is chock-full of things I am not yet good at, so I am never bored.
What was your favourite moment on the ISS? Anything you miss that if you got the chance to go to space again you would do a lot more often? Thanks.
To orbit the Earth is an awesome privilege. The work to get there is lifelong and beyond hard, but to then actually be there is on the edge of miraculous.
My favourite moment on ISS was once in the Cupola, the huge bulging window facing Earth. We had just crossed Australia at sunset, and were arcing up over Indonesia, when we began to cross a thousand mile storm. The lightning was almost continuous below, lighting up a thunderhead like a flashbulb and then catching across the storm as if it were contagious, a rippling wave of searing white light. Tom Marshburn floated quietly into the Cupola beside me, and we hovered in wonder, too amazed to grab a camera, pointing to the magnificence and speaking in hushed delight. We wanted to go get the rest of the crew to come see, but the spectacle was too mesmerizing to leave. We kept gasping and laughing in wonder, until finally we drove up and past China and the storm fell behind us. We felt like the luckiest 2 guys in the universe. And still do.
Hi Chris! Do you think movies like The Martian will help to renew interest in space exploration for the younger generations?
I think movies like The Martian remind us of what is fascinating. The movies don't cause interest, they reflect it. The science fiction and fantasy help push back the edges of what we allow ourselves to imagine. Then when they are then underpinned by real images of Pluto, water geysers on Enceladus, the surface of a comet, water flowing down the slopes of Mars, and 6 humans living off the planet, that imagination becomes reality. It's a powerful combination, like the stories that excited me as a child, the explorers who showed the way, and the life I deliberately chose as a result.
What is an everyday thing that we do on earth that is extremely difficult to do in zero g?
Without gravity, hard things become easier, like moving a Buick with one finger. But some simple things become harder, like putting on your shoes. Pay attention the next time you lace up your Nikes - I bet you use gravity to hold you still while 2 hands and 1 foot are busy. In space, you helplessly float around and bump into things until you finally get the laces tied, and then start looking to see where the other shoe has floated off to. I tried for 5 months to do it gracefully, but never achieved shoe-tying elegance.
What does a Trudeau as PM mean for Canada and our space agency?
When I saw the results of our election, I sent a congratulatory note to my friend (and 1992 astronaut classmate) Marc Garneau. He's an honourable, hard-working, smart and good Canadian, who has given his entire life to public service. I look forward to seeing what he, Mr. Trudeau and their party choose to do going forward, especially in space exploration and research. As a member of Canada's Space Advisory Board, I look forward to meeting with them once they get settled in, and to do my best to give good advice and options.
Hello Colonel Hadfield,
How long until the average citizen (read: me) will be able to afford a tourist flight in space?
There are many people working on making spaceflight simpler and safer, and thus cheaper. The folks at Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and Space X are all trying out different technologies, and are getting close. I eagerly watch each of their launches to see what they're trying next, seeing what goes wrong, and what they change for the next try. It's still early days in space travel, but we figured it out for rail, sea and air travel. I'm optimistic.
Chris, in order for human life to sustain, do you believe the answer in doing so is colonizing space or saving our home here on Earth?
I think the more widespread we are, the greater our chance of survival. Local disasters all depend on your definition of 'local'. A volcano or a hurricane can have devastating effect, but so can an asteroid. We need to do both - expand to the edges of where our inventiveness can take us, and use that same restless intellect to make the most of where we already are.
What is the oddest most unexplainable thing you've witnessed in space?
Just tell me you saw aliens.
No astronaut I have ever met has seen an alien. And I was president of the astronaut professional society (The Association of Space Explorers) for several years, so I've met almost every space flyer. The odds are that there must be life somewhere else in the universe with the enormity of chances, but there is no actual evidence yet. We're hunting though - on Mars, on Saturn's moons, and beyond.
How stoked are you to see the Jays come back for the second series in a row and make it to the World Series?
I'm a father of two daughters who are still quite young and excited about stars, planets, and all things astronomical. I would love to keep their enthusiasm for the subject (and all things STEM related really) up for the long haul.
What recommendations would you have to encourage their current passion, and are there any programs in Canada that you're aware of that could help further this goal?
Thanks for putting up the time for this AMA!
The link between excited fantasy and reality is the key. Go to a planetarium or science centre, and go with a purpose, with specific things to see. Look at Saturn through a telescope, or the craggy surface of the Moon. Visit a spaceport, and see where humans leave and return to Earth. Study some fact or topic and then use all the tools at hand to go prove it. Make it mentally interactive, a process of curiosity answered, of personal discovery.
Are you a fan of listening to disco music in space?
no, but better there than on Earth
Hi Chris! What'd you have for lunch today?
Today for lunch I had cheese, sliced meat, a seed cracker and a bunch of grapes, plus some berries. Finger food while Redditing! I'm in Jasper Alberta, getting ready for the Dark Skies Festival. So beautiful outside, and sparse clouds, so should be a fine, memorable night.
Now that Mythbusters is ending and Adam will have a lot more free time for other projects, do you have anything planned with him?
I love every chance I get to work with Adam Savage. He is creative, talented, highly-trained, hugely curious and good, fun company. We spent a hilarious afternoon at ComiCon in San Diego, just did a screening and review of The Martian together, and are looking at what to do next. Maybe I can help put the new turbo in his Land Rover :) We're patient, though, as fortunately the world is wide, life is long, and human foibles are endless.
My brother is 14 and his goal is to be an astronaut. How did you initially get hired by NASA? What would you say to a young person who wants to follow in your footsteps?
To become an astronaut, I recommend 3 things: keep your body healthy, get an advanced technical education, and learn to make tough decisions and stick with them. After that, learn other languages, learn to fly, learn to scuba dive, always be pursuing new skills. And at the core of it, forever be in pursuit of your passion. It's amazing where life can lead if you constantly improve yourself in the direction of your secret dreams.
Is it as annoying as I think it would be to use the restroom in space?
Using the space toilet is slower than on Earth, and you want to do it right or pee goes everywhere. It's a nice moment, with the loud whirring hum of the fans, pumps and separators, to take a break and think a bit in an otherwise very demanding place. We kept a copy of &$#@ My Dad Says in the toilet stall, wedged under a handrail. Perfect space bathroom reading.
Is it possible to be an astronaut without the military and fighter pilot experience? e.g. being a pacifist?
Yes - I am the only Canadian astronaut who is a military test pilot. What matters is competence and proven capability. Pursue those.
Have you considered going into politics?
I have no personal interest in becoming a politician, no.
Hey Chris! I'm wondering, as someone who will often become overwhelmed by large tasks, is there something inherent or learned in being able to solve complex problems and huge tasks under extraordinary pressure?
Flying a spaceship is an enormously complex task, especially with the level of danger and consequence involved. The only way we can make it work is to start simple; learn one thing completely, and then move on to the next, then the next. Once you understand a few things, put them together and understand how that system works. Then practice it, especially as it breaks and goes wrong. Never be content with how much you know, or how good you are - be relentless in self-improvement. Eventually you will be capable of operating the whole ship in a practice setting, and then for real. The key is in personal competence, and visualizing your response to all possible failures. It takes the stress away when you then do it for real.
Does being a (or maybe the) role model for kids ever feel like a burden? You probably can't get away with having a bad day or stumbling out of a bar the way most anyone else could.
Being a role model is a responsibility, and I treat it that way. Most public figures do. I have been very lucky, have had great privilege and public trust, and I see that as a fine obligation. To be in a position now to influence young people to perhaps make more of themselves is a great delight. It helps motivate me to be a better person.
Commander did you had braces when you were young? I saw your teenage pic. You smile like having braces on, :)
My teeth were crooked when I was young. I had a weird underbite, and my baby teeth hung on too long so my adult teeth started coming in over top. It was a mess, but a good dentist pulled the reluctant baby teeth and made me a retainer that I wore for a couple of years as everything slowly settled into what I have now. Not flawless movie-star, but pretty even and good for chewing :)
Thanks for doing another AMA :) I was just wondering if there were any plans to bring your Generator show to other locations outside of Canada if it's successful? (though I have no doubts that it will be) I'd love to see it here in Ireland, or the UK. Toronto is a bit far though ;)
We would love to host a Generator show outside Toronto. This upcoming one is nearly here (5 days away!) and is shaping up to be exactly what I had hoped for: art, science, thought, humour and music, all highlighting individual and collective creativity and unexpected insight. Once we finish in Massey Hall on the 28th and debrief, we'll decide where and when to host the next one. Looking forward to it!