Superstar astronaut – and some-time musician – Chris Hadfield is in the extraordinarily rare position of having spent 15 hours literally in space.
Not in a rocket, not on board a space station, but on spacewalks in the infinite vastness of space itself during his 21-year career as an astronaut for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency.
The first Canadian to walk in space, Chris came to wider global attention during his six-month tenure as Commander of the International Space Station, when he recorded a version of David Bowie’s hit Space Oddity on board, and through documenting his journey via social media.
Since his retirement in 2013, Chris has written four best-selling books – with his fifth, The Defector, a thriller drawing on his time as a fighter pilot, due for release in the autumn.
Now he’s returning to the UK with a new show which comes to The Lowry later this month.
On Earth And Space – Chris Hadfield’s Guide To The Cosmos will see the him share his thoughts on the new age of space travel and what it will mean for life on Earth.
“I am greatly looking forward to it,” Chris said. “It is such a joy to connect and share ideas with so many people.
“It will be an evening of discovery and digging into many ideas about space, of where we have come from, where we are and where it’s leading to, helping us to understand more about where space exploration is heading with the technological advancements.”
Chris Hadfield’s journey to space began as a nine-year-old in Ontario, where he recalls watching Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong take part in the first ever lunar landing and Moon walk.
In that ‘one small step’, Chris set his heart on following in their footsteps, and made it his own mission to succeed.
“What I saw was the most exciting thing human beings had ever done, and I wanted to be part of that,” he recalls.
Chris learned to fly aged 15 and went on to enlist with the Canadian Armed Forces, where he eventually became a combat fighter pilot and test pilot and at age 33 he was accepted into the Canadian Space Agency’s astronaut programme.
“The day you get the phone call to be selected is one of the most amazing moments,” Chris said. “Gaining the qualifications to be selected is extremely difficult, but then it has to be combined with luck, hard work and being there at the right time.
“To get that phone call on a Saturday afternoon to say Canada would like you to be an astronaut, is incredible.”
And while his CV has countless achievements and commendable ‘firsts’, any one of which would be impressive in its own right, he’s remarkably grounded about what he’d regard as his greatest moment in life.
“Condensing 63 years of life into a few publicly shining moments, you trivialise it and miss so much of what is important to me,” he explained. “I met my wife in a high school play. She was turning 15, I was 16, and that’s probably the most significant moment in my life as we’ve been together ever since. That relationship has hugely influenced the life we have had together and all that we have accomplished.”
Chris’s space career has some impressive stats – there’s that 15-hours on spacewalks, and he’s orbited Earth more than 2,600 times.
Stepping out into space, is ‘literally and figuratively an other-worldly experience’, which took him four years to prepare for.
“It’s very dangerous, but there’s a huge number of things to squeeze in in a wildly different environment, at very high stakes,” he said. “The vast majority of what you’re thinking about is the work you are doing, and the life and death enormity of performing each step and paying attention to each minor detail, as well as dealing with the things that can and do go wrong – I was blinded on my first walk, and there have been instances where there’s been a danger of someone drowning as cooling water gets into the suit’s helmet.
“It is also immensely exciting and the absolute personification of what I dreamed about as a nine-year-old boy. It is so exhilarating: The physical experience of pulling yourself out of a small airlock on the ISS into the infinite 3D of the universe, with Earth right there.
“You’re no longer an Earthling in that moment, and it really strikes home. It’s overwhelming.
“Viewing Earth from space over time is like watching the planet take a breath. You see winter and summer swap between the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Because the planet is on a tilt, and not all planets have that, we have our distinctive seasons. Seeing that unfold above you is extremely provocative.”
There’s been growing excitement surrounding a new era of space exploration in recent years, so where does Chris see the future of space travel?
“As humans, we are explorers by nature,” he said. “When I was born, no one had flown in space. We reached space 61 years ago – all as part of that natural urge to explore, Now we’re at a place where the technology is rapidly improving and opening many, many opportunities.
“We’re looking imminently at settlement on the Moon, initially robotic, but then human settlement. The reality of getting people there soon is increasing.
“Eventually there will be people on Mars, not just robots. Mars has an atmosphere and water, and that’s essential for human life. There are daunting problems to solve, but drawing on the many thousands of years of the restless, inventive human nature to be explorers, that’s where we are going.”
On Earth and Space - Chris Hadfield’s Guide to the Cosmos, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Sunday, June 18. Details from www.thelowry.com