Tuesday night Commander Chris Hadfield met with a small group of Kansas City patrons at a reception in the Linda Hall Library of science and technology, in advance of a lecture on the release of his new book You Are Here to 800 attendees at the Unity Temple on the Plaza. Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who flew twice on the space shuttle and commanded the International Space Station last year, fielded a barrage of questions on everything from his tight fit in a Russian Soyuz space capsule to his favorite moments in outer space to his famous viral rock video.
Just feet from a 1543 first edition of Copernicus’s On the Heavenly Spheres in which Copernicus first introduced humans to an image of the Sun at the center of the universe, and a 1610 hand-notated first edition of Galileo’s treatise Starry Messenger in which Galileo first documented his discoveries via telescope, Hadfield was a living representation of mankind’s greatest achievements so far. Confident and razor sharp, Hadfield conveyed those traits you’d expect from a test pilot and astronaut required to know how to repair every part of his spacecraft if necessary and conduct experiments in outer space as planet Earth soars in front of him at 1,000 miles per hour.
Hadfield, known for his transmission of images via Twitter during his five-month stint on the International Space Station (ISS), said he personally follows very few people on the Internet. “I follow a few friends I know who have some humorous things to say,” he said. On the space station Hadfield produced an unprecedented rock video sung and performed on guitar by the commander–a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which we reported on here at borg.com back in 2013 (and referred to Hadfield as the coolest man on, or off, Earth). He said his son, who produced the video from back home on Earth, “really wrote the book” on using social media to convey something as enormous as sharing what Hadfield was doing in outer space, including the millions re-introduced to the space program who watched his video on YouTube. “We have something like 20 million hits,” he said proudly (actually now more than 23 million).
Before the private reception, Linda Hall Library history of science librarian Bruce Bradley showed off the facilities collection of original historic astronomy texts, and Hadfield said he was impressed by what he had seen. The Library previously hosted Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt, seen here.
Hadfield showed my friend Chris Jackson and me an image on his phone of a cramped American astronaut Reid Wiseman being pulled from his capsule after his return to Earth. Hadfield had returned to Earth from the ISS in a Russian Soyuz space capsule that he called a “tight fit.” The current Soyuz capsule has only slightly more room than the well-known Soyuz craft from the 1960s.
When asked about his favorite memory in his months living in outer space, Hadfield didn’t miss a beat. “Spacewalking.” He described the Earth in his full view as he floated weightless before it. “You have a whole different perspective. You have the curve of the Earth soaring by at five miles per second, all the colors, three dimensional, and [sweeping his hand down below him] then the whole universe goes by… you’re hanging on with one hand. It’s an amazing experience.”
Was he nervous about working in an oxygen-controlled environment? “We’re in an air controlled environment right now, right? No, particularly when you know how to repair everything that can go wrong.” How was training for his missions compared to the real thing? “All simulators are wrong. They may do some things that are close, but try to never base all your conclusions on a simulation. Because you’ll get it wrong when you do it for real. And that’s true for training underwater for spacewalking.”
Commander Hadfield is on tour for the next several weeks. See his website to find appearances near you (and remember just how far he’s traveled to get there).
You can pick up copies of Hadfield’s You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes/Photographs from the International Space Station at Amazon.com here and his prior work An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth here.