Colonel Chris Hadfield: Out of this World

Astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield returns to St. John’s to conclude his Canada 151 tour in a city that for him, stands out as out of this world amazing


Colonel Chris Hadfield opens with the fact he’s calling from “the other side of the Atlantic.” Glasgow to be exact. But then again Hadfield has pretty much been everywhere, and then some.

Newfoundlanders grew fond of the rocket man when he shared pictures of our province from space while calling the space station Mir home. His thoughts on sharing that image so many have grown to love? “It was a delight,” he says.

‘Through My Eyes’

Most people could never imagine the clarity and the perspective you get of the world from an orbiting spaceship, he continues. “You go around the whole world in 90 minutes and so you see every place in the world every day 16 times. The access, because of digital photography now compared to my first flight when we only had film, lets people come on board and see the world through my eyes.”

Hadfield, who has a brother who calls this province home, says sharing what this province looks like from space was special. “I’ve flown F18s out of there when I was in the air force, so it was nice to be able to see (Newfoundland) from orbit and share what it actually looks like.”

Hadfield has another Newfoundland connection. The album he created while on board the space station, Space Sessions: Songs From a Tin Can, had artwork created by Newfoundland graphic designer Jud Haynes.

“That was so great. He won awards for it, in fact. I’ve recorded a variety of music, but there’s a Canadian made guitar (on the space station) and it was just a project to do late at night when I was supposed to be asleep. If I had any energy left at all I’d just play the guitar and record and I didn’t really know what to do with it, but I felt it was one more way to try and capture what the experience meant to me and maybe some other people would get a sense of it through music.” 

On the graphic for the cover, Hadfield is full of praise. “He did a brilliant job. He was very creative but he was also very good to work with. I really love the art on the cover of that album.”

What brings Hadfield to Newfoundland this time? A new interactive show of music, chatting, sharing and back-and-forth with the audience he’s calling his Canada 151 Tour.

“It’s very much me talking about the country. I’ve lived 26 years outside of Canada and crossed Canada thousands of times on board four different spaceships over the years, and when I moved back to Canada about four years ago it gave me a chance to look at it with a fresh set of eyes. When we were having our 150 birthday last year, I thought it might be good to express what it felt like and what it looked like to me and what’s important to me.”

The show has been well received, he shares, selling out all across the country.  “The show finishes up in St. John’s and we started in Vancouver last summer. It’s nice to have a standing ovation across the country,” he says with a smile in his voice.

Touchdown – NL

When he touches down at Holy Heart Theatre on March 3, what can audience members expect? ‘There’s a little music. Music is a way to express things that are otherwise hard to say or hard to share. The only reason to reminisce or to celebrate an anniversary is to sort of gather yourself and think about what to do next. I don’t spend a lot of time looking backwards. I thought the round number of 150 was a good time to look around, see what’s going on, see what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong. But I look forward mostly to talk about some of the interesting people and cool stuff that’s going on.”

Hadfield says he particularly enjoys the question and answer section with the audience as it gives him a chance to interact with people, something he enjoys as much as he loves the music.

“I’ve spoken in maybe 1,000 schools across Canada in the 25 years since I was selected as an astronaut.”

Does one question stand out over any other? He laughs. “The number one is the number two question,” he teases.  Hadfield says he tried to make good use of his six months on MIR. “When I got to space on my third fight, which was a long duration flight where I commanded the space station, I was at a really nice position – because of my experience but also because I was there for half a year  – to be able to try and properly answer all those questions I’ve been asked for a quarter century.”

‘World Wide Reaction’

Hadfield created about 100 videos  while in space. “It’s been incredible to see the worldwide reaction. To let people in on something that’s still very new to the human experience. When I was born no one had ever flown in space – I’m older than space flight.” The technology that allows him to share his experiences with the world is newer still.

Thinking about his experiences as a musically inclined astronaut, how does he see science vs. art? “There’s really no difference. We put them in different sections of the newspaper, but they don’t know that they are different,” he says.

It’s a topic he’ll speak on when he hits the stage at Holy Heart next month.

“Science and art overlap. I  had the opportunity on my first space walk while riding on the Canada Arm to go through the Aurora (Borealis), to essentially surf on it while outside on a space walk. It’s an intensely scientific thing, the Aurora. We built our first observatory in Canada to try and understand it and our first satellite that Canada launched was to try and understand the upper atmosphere and the Aurora and the magnetic field.

“There’s science behind its creation, a “quite complex process,” plus it’s also a good indicator of the health of the planet. But, it’s something else as well. “It’s also intently beautiful and spiritual and sort of just straight up stimulating. It’s like being at the ultimate concert with an incredible light show. To be in a place that we can only get to using the furthest edge of our technology and to have that totally visceral artistic experience to me, it’s sort of summarizes the whole thing. We use science and technology to allow us to go places and do things and express ourselves in a way that is actually primarily just human and artistic.”

One Strange Rock

Hadfield is a busy man. He’s hosted a six-part series for the BBC on astronaut selection, and he’s working on a ten-part series for National Geographic called One Strange Rock which is narrated by Will Smith. He’s also working on a YouTube series called Rare Earth.  

The important thing, he shares, is being useful. “It’s why I’ve written my three books. To me, what really matters is what do we gleam from exploration and from pushing ourselves to the limits of our capability. How can all that be not just entertaining,  but useful to people in their daily lives,” he shares.

For now, Hadfield says returning to this province is yet another adventure he’s excited about for a variety of reasons.

“I’m looking forward to being there. I’ve had a chance to visit many times and spring board out of there to defend Canada during the Cold War,” he says with pride. But his memories of this place go back even earlier than that.

“My dad took me there when I was a child. He brought me out to Cape Spear and we went to the tower. I remember going into the crows nest as a child. Dad was an airline pilot back in the 70s, and those memories stand out. It’s an amazing spot.”

Hadfield says he hopes he can instill a sense of adventure and wonder in those who come to see him in St. John’s “I’m very much looking forward to being there and I think it will be a fun night for anybody who comes.”

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