But Hadfield is anything but retired — as he continues to write books, play guitar and speak about his life experiences to audiences everywhere. Chris Hadfield is a featured guest speaker Mar. 27 at the University of Lethbridge 2014 Calgary Alumni and Friends Dinner in Calgary.
“I was an astronaut for 21 years and I was talking the whole time. It’s a really interesting experience — the process of preparing for space flight. All the things that we do and then the actual space flight experience itself,” said Hadfield.
What Hadfield has learned through speaking engagements over the years is audiences are interested in the human side of the story.
“The whole period that I was an astronaut and now that I’m retired out of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) — to me that’s really at the core of the talks that I give,” said Hadfield, who has lived at the bottom of the ocean, participated in spacewalks and has been around the world 2,600 times.
During the talks Hadfield takes the bizarre set of experiences he’s had and shares the stories and the results, while audience members draw their own conclusions, as to how the information applies to their own lives.
“It’s a universal human interest and also kind of a basic human need of trying to understand how to deal with life better and maybe try to find some skills that allow you to be more successful,” he added.
According to Hadfield, a few weeks ago a news story in Ireland stated enrolment in science, technology, math and physics is up 15 to 20 per cent and the reports noted this increase is contributed to what Hadfield and fellow crew members accomplished on the International Space Station (ISS) last year.
“To have a direct measure like that is for me immensely motivating still now and makes me just want to try and be as clear and well thought out as possible in expressing the ideas,” said Hadfield, adding Canadian students are also big fans of space exploration.
“I’m in the Canadian textbooks in Grade 6 and Grade 10 and I’ve been an astronaut long enough that an entire generation of Canadian kids has grown up with me being one of the influences that has an example of science, technology, application and rewards that come from it. It’s the students that were studying me when they were nine years old that are now approaching 30 and so there’s all sorts of people that come up to me all the time that have anecdotal stories and feedback of the effect that I had.”
An example Hadfield gave was one of Canada’s current astronauts Jeremy Hanson. “It’s renewing and gratifying to see.”
Born in Sarnia, Ont. Hadfield went on to receive many honours which included winning the U.S. Navy Test Pilot of the Year award in 1991, NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal in 2002, a Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2003 and he was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 2005.
Of course Hadfield’s mission was also commemorated in 2006 on Royal Canadian Mint silver and gold coins for his spacewalk to install the Canadarm2 on the ISS. He is also affiliated with the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute, president of the Association of Space Explorers and is well known for playing guitar in space.
“There’s a guitar out at the space station and it was launched in 2001, so it’s been there for 13 years and it’s a Canadian made guitar,” said Hadfield.
“There’s no strap of course. Straps require gravity. So it’s weird. The guitar is floating in front of me. It would sort of be like playing a guitar in a swimming pool. Where the guitar is buoyant and floating in front of you. There’s nothing to stabilize it. Its weight doesn’t hold it down in your lap or against a strap or on your shoulders. It’s floating free in front of you as if you and the guitar just stepped off a cliff and now you’re trying to play guitar while both of you are falling,” said Hadfield, adding eventually you figure it out.
Fast facts. Hadfield has flown over 70 different types of aircraft. In June 1992, Hadfield was selected to become one of four new Canadian astronauts from a field of 5,330 applicants.
He was assigned by the CSA to the NASA Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas in August of the same year.
Heading into space the first time, Hadfield said the experience felt exhilarating because of the weightlessness.
“Weightlessness is so different than being squished down on your rear end. Weightlessness is honestly like a super power, where you can fly. Suddenly, you can fly and soar and tumble. It’s magic, so it is exhilarating and the whole world is pouring by out your window and you’re doing something really hard but you’re doing it well because you’ve been trained for it. You’ve been training for years and years and years,” said Hadfield.
From a fear point of view, Hadfield said it would be scary if a person was randomly thrust into space with consequences at stake such as life and death. But astronauts are not randomly thrust into those types of situations.
“We prepare so intensively for years and years in advance in such detail and with such methodical care that by the time you get there the unknown part of things — which would normally cause fear, the lack of understanding what might happen next and what you’re going to do about it — those have long ago been dealt with so that you don’t have that irrational fear but instead you actually have sort of a calm and a confidence. It’s not because we’re super brave or something — it’s because we’ve taken the time to truly get ready and be prepared for it. Therefore, you get to do it well and you get the benefit from the joy of it that comes as a result,” said Hadfield.
Now that Hadfield is grounded from a vast array of out-of-this-world experiences he continues to take on speaking engagements throughout North America and abroad.
Hadfield is also busy doing TV work for the CBC, is a part-time professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, is writing a few follow-ups to his bestselling number one book “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” (which has been translated into 12 languages) and is still involved in the music-making process. “There’s a lot of music,” he said.
“I just performed at the Lou Reed tribute in Toronto a couple of weeks ago and the Windsor Symphony — I wrote a whole CD worth of original music when I was on the space station and the Windsor Symphony is making an orchestration arrangement of all of those and I’ll be performing with the Windsor Symphony in October,” said Hadfield.