COLUMN: Amazing accomplishments of a down-to-earth man

Unpretentious, rather than humble, is about the best word I can come up with to describe Chris Hadfield.

Unpretentious, rather than humble, is about the best word I can come up with to describe Chris Hadfield.

He is a man who spent more than half a year in space, has flown on three missions beyond our atmosphere, is the first Canadian to walk in space, and commanded the International Space Station. And those are but a few of his incredible accomplishments.

Yet to hear him speak about his experiences is to listen to a man describing what seem to be almost ordinary, though other-worldly, events.

He is, beyond a doubt, one of the most classy and captivating speakers I have ever had the privilege to listen to. Despite all the time in space, Chris Hadfield is about as down-to-earth as you can get.

Describing the landing and extraction from the capsule that carried him back to Earth, and the effect on his body and brain from the re-entry, he said, “All you want to do is puke, but the guys helping you out want to talk, so you talk, then you puke.”

He also drew smiles and chuckles from the audience at Abbotsford Centre last Saturday night when he told of the violent shaking astronauts experience in the first two minutes of liftoff, when the booster rockets propel them from zero to thousands of miles an hour, then the almost serenity of travel as the space shuttle separates on the final leg of the journey to the ISS.

Though he is a colonel in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and from his first glider flight as a kid has flown 70 different types of aircraft, Hadfield was actually a civilian, though a member of the Canadian Space Agency, when he commanded the International Space Station, having retired from the military some years prior.

And not only has he orbited the earth thousands of times in the ISS and space capsules, he has gone round our globe 10 times as his own “heavenly body” during the two times he spent on space walks outside the station.

He brought forth a few chuckles when he said, while walking in space, he actually let go of the space station framework for a few seconds, just to see what it was like to be truly free of the bonds of Earth and man.

One of Chris Hadfield’s greatest accomplishments, however, has been his ability to bring the appreciation of space to the masses. His use of social media, his photographs from space, and the recording of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” that captured the world have made him perhaps the most recognized and renowned astronaut of the modern era.

His description of holding a guitar in the weightlessness of space was entertaining, as was the mention of the slight rewriting of Bowie’s song (with his permission, of course) – “The astronaut died in the original version. Couldn’t have that!”

An interesting aside to the song was that Hadfield had requested that NASA in Texas provide a guitar for the space station. Oddly enough, what was provided was a small instrument made right here on the Lower Mainland of British Columbia! Couple that with the Canadarm developed in Richmond, Hadfield’s basic military training done in Chilliwack and his first university experience at Royal Roads in Victoria, our province has played a prominent role in the exploration of space. Now in retirement from the military and CSA, Hadfield lives in Victoria with his family.

What led him to become Canada’s most celebrated astronaut? He was nine years old when in 1969 he watched the first men walk on the moon and determined then that he wanted to go into space.

Set a goal, he said, and do everything you can towards achieving it.

He did just that, and the world, and space, is a better place because of that nine-year-old’s determination to succeed where few have gone before.

markrushton@abbynews.com

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