Down-to-Earth astronaut wows Langley crowd

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield started out his stop in Langley Friday with a song.

Strumming his guitar against a starry backdrop at the Cascades Convention Center, Hadfield performed I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing?) to Fraser Valley realtors.

Hadfield was in town to speak to the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board’s annual conference.

His talk ranged from the clothing worn by astronauts (including the diaper under the suit) to the feelings of launch and landing, to the changed perspective that comes from three trips into space.

“It’s a phenomenal experience that I’ve been privileged to have three times, to fly in space,” Hadfield said.

On launch day, you almost try to pretend the big event isn’t going to happen, Hadfield said.

“That’s a day you have set for yourself as a dream of a day,” he said.

Yet his inner nine-year-old was cheering, he said.

Hadfield has always said that he decided to become an astronaut at age nine, watching the Apollo 11 moon landing from his family’s home in Ontario.

At the time, there was no Canadian space program. The only countries that had flown into space were the Americans and the Soviets. In the absence of a true path to follow, Hadfield decided to turn himself into the kind of person who could become an astronaut, if the opportunity ever arose.

He learned to fly with the Air Cadets, he joined the Canadian military and got a degree in engineering, and he learned to fly jets.

By the time he got his chance to become a part of the Canadian space program in the early 1990s, he had the qualifications.

“What is your long term goal?” Hadfield said.

Whatever that goal is, no matter how impossible, work towards it a piece at a time, Hadfield told the audience.

Life will not always work out the way you want it to, he noted.

“I wanted to walk on the moon; I’m a failure,” Hadfield said. “I never walked on the moon.”

But you shouldn’t let the final goal define you, Hadfield said.

In 2012 and 2013, Hadfield’s last mission before retiring as an astronaut was to command the International Space Station.

He became world-famous during his stint in the ISS due to the vast number of tweets and photos he sent down to Earth, as well as for singing with hundreds of thousands of Canadian school children, and for recording a cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, the first music video shot entirely in outer space.

Hadfield said he took 45,000 photos while on the space station.

“Cause who wouldn’t?” he said.

From space, he reflected, you can see what a tiny area of the Earth we really live on. Below us is superhot molten rock, above us just at thin layer of breathable air.

Of necessity, we’re all in this together, he said.

“This is our spaceship, and we’re not passengers, we’re crew,” he said.

He spoke of failure, and how we respond to it, several times Friday.

He noted that the astronaut’s prayer, said before every mission, is “Lord, please don’t let me screw up.”

Astronauts are also taught that there is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse.

“Stuff breaks,” said Hadfield. “It’s worth reminding yourself, things go wrong.”

He advised against envisioning success.

“You are far better served to visualize failure,” he said.

Prepare for failure, anticipate it, try all you can to avert it, and when something actually does happen, you will be much better prepared to bounce back.

Hadfield gave a concrete example of that in the story of the ammonia leak that almost scuttled the space station during his time there. If the leak of coolant couldn’t be fixed, the entire station would have had to be abandoned, all its experiments left unfinished.

A spacewalk was needed to repair the leak. Normally it takes seven days to prepare for a spacewalk. NASA gave them a day.

But two astronauts headed outside and repaired the problem, saving the station. They had prepared and worked and were ready.

Hadfield has now written a book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, the latest transformation in his life.

“The truth is, you have to turn yourself into things,” he said of how he’s achieved all he’s done.

The astronaut said he still wants to see more space exploration and more international cooperation along the way. He did much of his flying in partnership with Russian cosmonauts and on Russian Soyuz capsules, but when he was with the Canadian Air Force he flew to intercept Soviet bombers that were practicing approaches to North America.

The next obvious stepping stone for further exploration is to go back to the moon, Hadfield said.

“We’re still sort of at the Shackleton level of exploring space,” he said, comparing modern missions to the work of Antarctic explorers like Ernest Shackleton.

After speaking to the assembled crowds and receiving a standing ovation, Hadfield signed numerous copies of his books, posed for photos, and even signed a number of $5 bills. The new Canadian $5 bill has an image of a spacewalking astronaut with the Canadarm.

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