Astronaut Chris Hadfield tells of terrifying moment his suit got ‘contaminatd’

Chris Hadfield predicts that humans will live on the Moon

“The coolest thing about space is spacewalking,” Chris Hadfield tells from his home in Milton, Canada. “That’s just the embodiment of being an astronaut… if you ask a six-year-old to draw you an astronaut, they’ll probably draw one in a spacesuit, spacewalking.”

No doubt Hadfield is right. Not only is the 63-year-old one of a handful of humans to have actually made it out on a spacewalk, while chalking up nearly 4,000 hours in space, he was also the first Canadian to leave Earth and complete one.

“It is the coolest, and most fun, and most complex, and most rewarding part of all spaceflight,” Hadfield said as he recalled one of his record-breaking missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

While Hadfield’s astute recollections of his time, and service to exploration, in space are well documented within the industry and NASA, for many the Ontario-born retired astronaut, is occasionally better known as the man who sang the David Bowie hit Space Oddity as he ended his time on the ISS in 2013.

In the years since his final mission, Hadfield has earned a name for himself through his wry tales of life away from Earth, and a surprise music career that only adds to the Order of Canada recipient’s timeless legacy.

All of the acclaim that has been directed towards the hardworking Canadian would likely pale into insignificance when Hadfield takes a moment to remember the “most magnificent” sight he had seen while in space.

But for Hadfield, who is set to explore his life in space during a series of talks across the UK and Ireland in June, reaching that illusive observation was far from straightforward.

He remembered “seeing the world with nothing between me and the planet, but just the perspex of my visor” as he undertook one of his two spacewalks, allowing him to float freely in space alone with only the Moon, Earth, the ISS and the stars for company.

“I was being blinded while outside by contamination in my suit,” Hadfield continued, “and having to work through a problem like that [was difficult] but on that same spacewalk, I shut off the lights on my helmet… got my night vision on and watched the world’s Aurora.

“In this case, it was the Southern Lights, south of Tasmania. You had the reds and the greens of the Aurora around me and around the ship.

“It was like surfing on the world… if you’re going to choose the most magnificent moment of all spaceflight, it would have to be outside on a spacewalk surfing on the Aurora of the world.”

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Hadfield’s dedication to his dream, an ambition sparked when as a nine-year-old he witnessed the first crewed Moon landing of Apollo 11 in 1969, saw him gain a glider pilot license as part of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces, and then take part in an exchange scheme with the United States Navy and United States Air Force.

Every step drew him closer to that burning desire to follow the likes of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and reach outer space.

His dream nearly fell apart, though. In 1986, Hadfield, like millions across the globe, tuned in to watch the Space Shuttle Challenger launch. It was NASA’s most exciting mission yet – with those on board set to study Halley’s Comet while in orbit – and among its seven crew members, there was even a school teacher, Christa McAuliffe.

The world held its breath.

Then just over a minute later, devastation. After 73 seconds of its flight, the Challenger broke apart, killing all of its occupants.

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“I thought that was the end of my dreams,” Hadfield said. “They’re never going to trust that process again. There was a school teacher on board – I mean NASA was never going to be trusted to do that again.”

But as has so often been the case in Hadfield’s life, his wife Helene was his “superb counsel”, and talked the aspiring astronaut into continuing down the path of fulfilling his childhood mission.

Hadfield admitted he had to constantly be aware of the decisions he was making to ensure that wish became a reality, but reflected that he holds no regrets.

“These are the choices that I have made in order to give me the opportunity to do the things that I think are really worthwhile,” he explained. “It has been fascinating, and challenging, and maybe that brings out the best in what I can offer.”

Hadfield added: “But, gosh, to command a spaceship, to be the first Canadian to ever walk in space… we celebrated it on our $5 bill in Canada – there’s a spacewalk around the back of the bill, and I unveiled that bill while I was living on the ISS.

“I needed to turn the dreams of a little nine-year-old boy into something that might actually happen. And the thing you obviously always have the greatest control over is your own choice.

“Those little decisions are stitched together… that’s your life.”

And for arguably one of Canada’s most important figures, what a life it has been so far.

More information about Chris Hadfield’s upcoming tour is available here.

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