Chris Hadfield, the singing astronaut on science fiction, social media, and space

Sunday, 8 December 2013 - 8:45am IST | Agency: DNA
The first Canadian to walk in space, Chris Hadfield is also 'the singing astronaut'. He talks to Ruchi Kumar about science fiction, social media, and space.

"The space walk is the most defining experience of being an astronaut. To be outside, all alone in a one person spaceship — your spacesuit — with the universe all around you, above you, under you and world besides you, is the most magnificent and humbling way to see the world,” recounts Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who recently commanded the international space station.

Hadfield is the first Canadian to walk in space. He is, however, better known as the ‘singing astronaut’, after a video of him performing David Bowie’s song Space Oddity in space went viral. His tweets and pictures from space earned him an extensive fan following back here on Earth, making him one of the most popular people of 2013.

Following his space tour, Hadfield is now on a book tour promoting his latest publication An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth which already is a New York Times bestseller. The book follows his journey from being an Air Force test pilot to becoming one of Canada’s first astronauts. “Canada doesn’t have its own space shuttles, so for us to fly in space, let alone command the space station, is rare and very special. I’m delighted to be that guy,” quips Hadfield who has been in the ‘space business’ for over two decades and has been to space three times for a total of 166 days. He truly is a real life hero for this generation.

But it was Twitter, Youtube and Facebook that has made Hadfield a household name. “It is just as if I were in your kitchen!” he says. “That’s the beauty of social media — direct honest access. It allows them to come on board the space station and be part of the astronaut’s journey. So when I took pictures or had a thought, I could invite people to be a part of it.”

And people were thrilled to be a part of Hadfield’s journey, as is evident by his million followers on Twitter. “People were getting direct, unscripted and honest access to what was going on at the space station. My son Evan worked all day, seven days a week, to support the social media efforts. The tweets were real events, as they happened. It was so powerful and interesting and I think that’s what caused the huge reaction,” he adds.

And the notorious video that made him a pop culture icon? “It is old and iconic, but to be able to play it in space brought a new understanding to the song. It was like the interweaving of art and fantasy with reality and that made it so mesmerising to watch,” he says.

Now retired from his career as an astronaut (not his space music career though), Hadfield has no plans of settling in for a quiet existence. Apart from being an author, he is also currently teaching at a university. He is very hopeful about the future of space explorations, and looks forward to the day humanity successfully colonises the moon. “These are the stepping stones across the universe,” he explains. “I really hope that just as the space station brought all these different countries together, going to the moon will bring other space-ready nations together. I’m hoping that by combining all our resources and intelligence, we can put a permanent human base on the moon,” he says.

BookAn Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth 
Author: Chris Hadfield
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 336 
Price: Rs 599

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