Chris Hadfield: Favourite Canadian space commander

He wowed us with his multiple talents but what really blew us away is how human Chris Hadfield is. 

By Jill Buchner

Chris Hadfield: Favourite Canadian space commander
Photo courtesy of the Canadian Space Agency
Canadian Living: You spent five months looking at Earth from the International Space Station. Did that literal change in perspective alter the way you see the world?

Chris Hadfield: Being able to patiently see the world really changes your perspective. But also, I got to know other continents almost as much as the one I’m from. I got to know parts of Africa that I’d never heard of before, and the outback in Australia, which is so wildly beautiful, otherworldly beautiful. And to see it over and over and over again – it’s like a friend to me. I’ve looked at the lines on its face. I feel a kinship with everywhere and can’t help but feel a kinship with the people. It’s going to be hard to put me anywhere on Earth now where I don’t feel like not only have I been there before but I have a sense of what it’s like and the people there. That’s a deeply personal thing, but at the same time, it’s a perspective I work really hard to share and spread.

CL: In the song you created with the Barenaked Ladies, you sing, “If you could see our nation from the International Space Station, you’d know why I want to get back soon.” What did you most want to return to Canada for?

CH: That’s a long list, from the most simple – a maple-dipped doughnut and black coffee from Tim Hortons – to going to a live Leafs game. But my wife and kids and I have lived out of the country longer than most Canadians, and I would say, interestingly enough, we’ve become more Canadian every year. The thing I really like most is the very essence of Canadian civilization, the things we value, that we care for each other, and the fact that our national principles are peace, order and good government. That’s almost inconceivable in every other country in the world. I have never felt at home anywhere else I’ve lived. But coming out of the airport here, getting onto Highway 401, I feel like I can exhale.

CL: You spent a lot of your time in space engaging Canadians – kids in particular – in your scientific experiments. Why is it important to motivate kids to learn?

CH: I think it’s important to get people motivated to use all of their faculties, to make the most of themselves. It’s the  knowledge and know-how and cunning of people that allow us to build a city or allow me to hold a BlackBerry up to my ear. The technology that goes into those things is purely the child of scientific and engineering innovation: People figured out one problem at a time in order to solve something that seemed insurmountable, to make magic. It’s magic what you and I are doing right now [talking on the phone]. And that, to me, is really important to emphasize: the necessity to use the individual capabilities you have, to be able to push back the edges of the unknown in any way you can.

CL: You decided you wanted to be an astronaut at nine years old, when you saw Neil Armstrong land on the moon. But at that point, it was impossible: There was no Canadian Space Agency and there were no Canadian astronauts. What do you say to kids who think their dreams are impossible?

CH: By definition, it was impossible. But the beauty of that particular moment was that you could look up at the moon and say, “Well, up until this afternoon, it was impossible to walk on the moon, but now we’ve done that.” So obviously, impossible is just a stage. But of course, there are some factors and insurmountable obstacles that can keep you from getting exactly where you want to get, no matter how much you try. The resolution I made was to try to become the person I wanted to be: What do I do to turn myself into that astronaut? Who do I talk to? Who are my role models? But I also try to make sure I enjoy it all along. I don’t have only one definition of success.
 
CL: One of your last tweets from space said: “To some this may look like a sunset. But it’s a new dawn.” Now you’ve announced you’re retiring from the Canadian Space Agency. It’s an ending but also a beginning. What’s that change like for you?

CH: It’s pretty exciting, really. I think it’s healthy to try to build in your life the chance for change and the willingness to accept it. It’s daunting initially. I joined the Air Force when I was 18. So now, after 35 years, it’s a pretty normal time to retire. But it’s still, for me, one giant leap, you know?

My wife and I tried to identify: What are the things that really make us want to get going in the morning? What are the things that give us a sense of purpose? The thing I really like is the opportunity to have a teaching role. The experiences I was allowed to have as an astronaut, especially living and working away from the planet, are just so different and so rich that the opportunity to let people know not just the palpable feeling of it but also the impact of it is something I have enjoyed doing and am looking forward to doing for a while.

Our Favourite Tweets From @CMDR_HADFIELD

1. I, for one, appreciate a healthy moustache, like this one inching along over New Zealand.

2. I don't know what it is or what it wants, but it keeps repeating "Sloof Lirpa" over and over. Alert the press.

3. To slowly change gears from the day's amusement-something light. Right after I took this picture I ate the cookie.

4. Canada rocks.

5. Space Pajamas: Russian-made and stylish, two-tone blue with white socks. What all the astronauts are wearing this year.

Check out some other great Canadians, including dads we love and women who inspire us.

This story was originally titled "The Rocket Man" in the September 2013 issue.

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