Chris Hadfield landed safely in Kazakhstan yesterday. Now who will entertain us from the International Space Station?
Chris Hadfield was the first Canadian to command the International Space Station. But he was more than that, he was Mr. Wizard, Bill Nye the Science Guy and a folk singing troubadour who brought the space station home to us. He will be missed.
Since 1998, the International Space Station has floated like a tin can above the Earth, and to be fair, many commanders in the past have been charismatic, and many have taught us lessons from Space, but none seemed to captivate us like Hedfield.
His satellite-beamed science lessons to Canadian middle schoolers were uploaded to YouTube, and they brought Hadfield to a new world wide audience. His simple explanations and down home charm brought the basic science experiments like wringing out a wash cloth in Space to audiences of over seven million on the internet. His live twitter feed from Space multiplied from 20,000 followers to over 800,000.
So let’s learn about the man who taught us more about life on the Space Station.
The 53-year-old grew up in the small Ontario farm town of Milton, just east of the border city of Sarnia. It was there he aspired for the skies, partly because of his Dad’s experience as a Royal Air Force pilot.
“The burning fire that made me want to pursue this for my whole life was absolutely turned on by watching the race to the Moon, eventually seeing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on its surface,” said Hadfield, who recalled the exploits of the early US and Soviet space pioneers.”
Hadfield entered the Canadian Armed Forces after “bumming around Europe skiing” in 1978 and became a fighter pilot. In 1992, he passed muster and became an astronaut. Three missions, and several projects later, he was selected to command the Space Station during the second half of his five month tour which ended this week.
In addition to leading the widely watched science lessons, Hadfield’s love of music and strumming his prized Larrivee Parlor guitar led to two musical firsts on the Space Station.
In February, Chris nailed his first “first” when the Commander teamed up with Ed Robertson and the Barenaked Ladies (and a middle school choir!!) to perform the first ever live duet between the Earth and Space. The song was written by Robertson and was broadcast nationally in Canada.
And then, it was his science interactions with the children of Canada that got the world’s attention. The lessons, generated by the students’ inquisitive tweets to his Twitter feed, went from private satellite classroom lessons to world wide internet videos, thanks to Julie Simard, a Candian Space Agency spokesperson. After failing to generate an audience with boring text feeds from Space, Simard said:
We decided that with social media and everybody having access to YouTube and content that is fun and informative, we would use video.
BAM! The hits started rolling in.
According to the News site Quartz:
Simard says she expected Hadfield to become popular in Canada but admits to being surprised by the worldwide interest he has generated. Perhaps what made Hadfield such a hit may have less to do with the mere fact that he was tweeting from space—plenty of other astronauts have done the same— but that he talked about sport and his kids and made stupid jokes. A lot of people use social media for such ordinary things. That he was doing it from space is what made it extraordinary.
His goodbye tribute to the Space Station has garned over 6 million hits in two days.
As one Canadian fan on YouTube put it:
Chris Hadfield may just have inadvertently changed the way we think and see on many levels simply by being the humble shining star in the sky that he is. I can’t think of a more outstanding person to represent… Humanity. I’m so proud.
Maybe this isn’t Hadfield’s swan song, I see a Canadian Science Show in his future, or he could become the next Gordon Lightfoot. Either way, a star has been born.