Interview: Chris Hadfield
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Chris Hadfield has seen it all. Everybody’s favourite ‘man with the moustache’ was the first Canadian citizen to take command of the International Space Station late last year, and he has since rose to worldwide fame both online and off. Whilst in orbit, he managed to use the unique experience to connect with earthlings in an incredibly personal way. He began tweeting from space, publishing fantastic high-resolution photographs, and replying to people with personal messages. He reached out to wide audiences through YouTube videos and web-chats, and even recorded his very own rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Space Odyssey’ before returning to earth. On 29th October 2013, Hadfield released his first book and kick-started his career as an author. As you can imagine, he’s managed to achieve a lot in his life, and I was honoured to be given the opportunity to interview him. “I’ve lived at the bottom of the ocean, driven one-person submarines for research, acted as NASA’s director of operations in Russia, travelled to the space station and coordinated space walks,” Hadfield reflected. “I was also a test pilot prior, and then a fighter pilot before that. I was even an engineer, a ski instructor, and a farmer. All that.” You would be forgiven for thinking it near-impossible to document the whole of Hadfield’s life in just one book, and therein lies the trick. As the book title suggests, rather than producing an autobiography per se, Hadfield offers a wide array of advice on how to make the most of your life on earth. “When you look at the shelves, you can see that you don’t necessarily need to have a deep personal experience to have a biography. I really wanted it to happen later in my career where I had more depth and perspective.” “I’ve been an astronaut for 21 years which is longer than just about anyone; Neil Armstrong was an astronaut for 8 years. I have built up a vast amount of skills and techniques during that time, and you get to do some things that are very rare in the human experience. I’ve been to the United Nations, parliament, elementary schools, and just everywhere. During that time, I got a sense of what interests people, and what has significance. Several years ago, it made sense to write it down.” “It’s not just anecdotes. Anecdotes are, of course, inherently interesting because of their uniqueness and because I have experienced all that stuff. But, we turn the anecdotes into all sorts of ideas, and skills, and lessons, and techniques, and stuff that everybody can perhaps think about or benefit from. That’s why I called the book what I did. I thought of the title when I was out walking our dogs with my wife. Surely, it’s an astronaut’s guide to life on earth. Similar to how I’ve given talks for a long time, through the telling of anecdotes and talking about the perspectives that they bring, you can also talk about how people might be able to use these experiences in a way that benefits them. And that’s what the book really is about – it’s not a self-help book - it’s a useful book with a lot of interesting stories which helps you conduct your own life.” Whilst speaking to Hadfield, it was obvious that he believed very strongly in taking every single opportunity that comes his way. Every event, no matter how banal or random it may seem at the time, helps to construct the people that we are. “Nothing in your life is truly independent, and they are all connected depending on how strong you make the link,” he said. “There are things I learned whilst I was hitch-hiking and riding trains around Europe when I was seventeen and eighteen. They set me up well to be successful later in life, giving me some depth of understanding and appreciation. It’s not part of the job expectation, but it’s just who I am. They are part of my continuum.” Just a couple of years after Hadfield’s first mission to Mir, Russia’s now de-orbited space station, he was approached by writers wanting to document his life experiences in the form of a biography.
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