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Hadfield’s voyage of discovery continues

Nov. 18, 2013, Vancouver - It was a music video that Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield made in space that became the biggest news story of his five-month mission commanding the International Space Station earlier this year - but another little-reported episode makes for a more compelling yarn.


November 18, 2013
By The Province

On a Vancouver stop to promote his new book, An
Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth, Hadfield talked about the day
mission control specialists told the crew they would have to take an
emergency spacewalk to check a coolant leak on the station's outer wall.

 

A
spacewalk normally takes weeks of planning, but this one, just four
days before the end of the crew's mission, came up suddenly.

 

"When you say 'holy mackerel,' imagine what we said," Hadfield recalled.

 

"We
woke up that Friday morning – we're going out on a spacewalk tomorrow?
The mood was somewhere between incredulity and joy amongst the whole
crew, but with a great understanding of the focus it was going to take
for the next 48 hours to get things done."

 

Hadfield himself had
been out in space twice before on an earlier mission as Canada's first
spacewalker, but for this mission he was to command U.S. astronauts
Chris Cassidy and Thomas Marshburn as they ventured outside the space
station.

 

"We had to go on one day's notice, and the reason we
could was that months before I had given the airlock, as the commander,
to Chris Cassidy (to look after), saying 'You know, we probably won't
ever get a sked to suddenly do a spacewalk, but just in case I'm giving
you the airlock, you own it … just have it set up. You know, just in
case.'

 

"So when the very unlikely event came of an emergency
spacewalk, which had never been done from the station, it was, OK, we
thought about it and we're ready."

The astronauts were able to get out, fix their leak and get back.

 

Hadfield
was best known during the mission for videos he made demonstrating life
and physics in zero gravity, for his photographs and chatty tweets from
outer space, and especially for his version of David Bowie's Space
Oddity.

 

As to why the spacewalk didn't become a news story: "It's
mostly because NASA is not trying to entertain people … So the harder
and more complex something is, the less time they have to talk about
it."

 

Hadfield retired from the space program after the mission
last spring, and has since joined the University of Waterloo as a
professor in the aviation and aerospace program. He started his book
years before this year's mission, in which he travelled to the space
station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.

 

"I've been an astronaut for well over two decades, which is longer than almost anybody ever is," he said.

 

"What
I wanted to show in the book was … what does it mean, what is the
point of it? What is the real usefulness of everybody organizing to do
this thing? "The amazing things that happen and the straight pure wonder
and entertainment of it – but also the content of it, the scientific
content, the engineering content."

 

Hadfield started training five
years ago for what was to be his last mission in space, and he's been in
space twice before – in 1995 aboard the shuttle Atlantis and in 2001
aboard Endeavour, when he performed his two spacewalks.

 

His
pre-space career included a stint as a test pilot seconded to the U.S.
Navy, where a day's work would sometimes involve deliberately losing
control of an F-18 fighter jet to find out how to get it back under
control.

 

So you have to ask, was he ever scared out of his wits?
"No. I don't recall in my entire adult life where I've allowed that to
happen," he said.

 

"And it's not because I don't put myself in
inherently scary situations, it's because I work hard to anticipate
them, so my wits predominate.

 

"I don't want to be scared out of my
wits. If that ever happened to me as a pilot or as an astronaut I would
have let everybody down, primarily myself."

 

He paused for a
moment. "The only time I felt a shiver of fear go up my back, I was
watching a big meteorite burn up over Australia when I was on board the
shuttle.

 

"Just watching that huge rock, that huge, dumb, tumbling
rock from deep in space, going 30 kilometres a second, come searing into
the atmosphere blindly, where it could have just as easily gone through
our spaceship and killed us all in an instant – that randomness was the
only thing that sent a shiver down my back.

 

"But that type of
randomness doesn't just exist in space. It exists everywhere and you
can't live your life in fear of acts of God."