With a one in 38 chance of dying during the first nine minutes, Chris Hadfield knew blasting into space came with anenormous risk.
And although he was overwhelmingly focused on flying the Space Shuttle Atlantis safely to the Russian Space Station Mir,the Canadian astronaut couldn’t help but feel immensely excited and thrilled, realizing a life-long dream was about to turninto reality.
“It’s the ultimate Christmas morning, but it’s coupled with an enormous seriousness which makes it more significant in yourlife,” said Hadfield about his first space mission in 1995, where he spent eight days on Atlantis, attaching a five-tonnedocking module to Mir and transferring supplies.
“A door’s about to open that you’ve never been able to properly open in your life.”
As the countdown begins, the engines fire up, creating 80 million horsepower and burning 12 tonnes of fuel every second.The next nine minutes are like steering a tornado, said Hadfield, as the shuttle shakes and vibrates, pinning the astronautshard into their seats.
When one set of engines finish, the next ones start, throwing the astronauts forward then back again. The weight of over 4Gs for several minutes is oppressive, he noted, “like an enormous fat person lying on top of you.”
At 8:42 the engines shut off and Hadfield is magically weightless, the Earth whizzing by underneath him at eight kilometresa second. Seeing Earth from space for the first time was an honour.
“It feels like someone’s revealing a secret to you. Like you’re getting to see something magical for the first time,” saidHadfield, who wanted to be an astronaut since he was a nine-year-old boy living in Ontario on a corn farm, and later spentpart of his studies at Royal Roads Military College in Victoria.
“That was part of the decades of process that allowed people to trust me to be sitting in the cockpit that day.”
From downhill ski racer, military fighter pilot, and an astronaut for 21 years who’s been around the world 2,650 timesduring his three trips to space, (becoming the first Canadian to command the International Space Station (ISS), walk in orbitoutside the station and operate the Canadarm) to best-selling author, musician and international celebrity, there’s notmuch Hadfield hasn’t done in his 57 years. But at the end of the month he’ll be doing something he’s never done before —performing with the Victoria Symphony.
The show called Rocket Man will feature music Hadfield wrote and recorded during his time onboard the ISS — with a fullorchestral score, along with storytelling about the inspiration behind the songs and images shot from space.
In 2001 NASA psychiatrists put a guitar in the ISS, recognizing that music is important for mental health. On Hadfield’s thirdspace mission in 2010, where he spent five months onboard the ISS, he took full advantage of that guitar since music hasalways been a big part of his life.
The music was a way for him to relax, reflect and explain his experiences as he stared into space out a big window, floatingeffortlessly with his guitar. When he wasn’t conducting scientific experiments, Hadfield wrote and recorded an entire album,and as part of his space station farewell, he released a video of his version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity — the first musicvideo made in space.
“It’s a very inspiring place to think and to write music. To float weightless by that big window with the guitar and play andwrite is a rare and magical experience. Some days I had a little idea in the morning and then the whole song had writtenitself by the end of the day,” said Hadfield, who began sharing his experience through social media, interviews andsingalongs, propelling him to instant celebrity.
Since returning to Earth for good nearly four years ago, Hadfield’s physical health has mostly returned to normal, but headmits he’ll be a lab rat for the rest of his life as scientists study the long-term effects of spending several months in space.When asked about the future of space exploration, he believes the next logical step is setting up colonies on the moon.
“We’ve permanently left Earth and have people living in space continually for the last sixteen-and-a-half years, so that’s abig step,” he said. “After that (the moon), we’ll have learned enough to maybe go as far as Mars. There’s no big rush, butit’s a natural extension of what we’ve been doing for years.”
Hadfield was selected in 1992 to become one of four Canadian astronauts from a field of 5,330 applicants. His Victoria show consists of three performances on March 24 at 8 p.m. and March 25 at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Royal Theatre.