Saturday, 23 November 2013

Chris Hadfield - An Astronaut's Guide to Life of Earth

     Yes,  I too  am intrigued by space.  My 57 book shelves are overflowing.  In fact some are triple banked.  Yet I continue to buy more books.  The younger generations tell me I need to embrace space-saving e-books.  It must have been good planning that I have a grandson, Braden, a whiz with computers,  now converting my book “It’s All Pensionable Time” to e-book format via Amazon, but electronics scare as well as delight me.  They change so rapidly they thoroughly confuse my 94 years.  Space-consuming books  remain old reliables, and right now I have 7 that I am part-way through.  I must tell you about one I have just finished that is really worth telling you about: Chris Hadfield’s “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”.
     At mess dinners here, I have had, in 2001 and 07 Nov 2008, two good discussions with down-to-earth astronaut Chris.   Actually NORAD in Colorado Springs is a good location to meet highly- interesting humans. The sizeable and capable Canadian contingent here  does invite excellent guest speakers to its mess dinners which I have been attending since 1963.  At another of these I was fortunate to have a discussion with Julie Payette, another of Canada’s eight astronauts selected for flights who now have a total of 396 days on 16  space flights.  Julie made 2 flights, 1999 and 2009.  In the latter she  travelled on Soyuz to the International Space Station (ISS) and met up with Canadian Robert Thirsk on his 2nd flight, this time for 189 days there conducting  experiments.  Julie is currently Chief Astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency.  While there, Robert was visited by another Canadian - Space tourist Guy Laliberté.  Robert is now VP of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.  A Calgary senior High School is named after him.
     In July 1969, at age 9, while watching Neil Armstrong visit the moon, Chris Hadfield knew what his goal in life was and immediately started on the necessary steps that could lead him, against incredible odds, to his dream.  Now, after 3 journeys into space, totalling 146 days, and being captain of the ISS for Mission 34/35 that ended 13 May 2013, he published his book throughout which he describes the astounding number of things one must know to join the astronaut world.  It reminds me of the remark my grandmother, Maude Brodie, gave me when I thought I was a top high school student - “You will never know how much you have to know in order to know how little you know”.   This parallels Chris’s advice and has remained so true in my banking, RCAF, teaching, and writing careers.
     Careers in the RCAF and the space program are similar in that your ego gets put in its proper place - you need to accept all assignments as necessary and important - and to prepare yourself for what may or may not come next as well as volunteering for jobs or courses that may be helpful.  Attention to small details can be life savers.  One moment you are one of the peasants, the next you are the local leader, integrating with the top civilian authorities, but before you can become too impressed with your own importance you are transferred to be one of thousands in the supporting roles.  Years may pass before you bounce back up the ladder.  They are careers that demand you be ready for whatever the fates decree, believing that each role is important. A huge drawback, that Chris also regrets, is that families suffer and wives need to be of sterner stuff than their husbands.
     As Chris describes the steps he took, he frequently mentions attitude.  To be nearer his work as a pilot at the Toronto airport  his father, Roger, moved the family from Sarnia to Milton where they bought a farm.  When a teenager Chris thought he had become the area’s best tractor driver until he caught and broke the rear drawbar on a fence post.  His father’s orders: “Chris, you better learn to weld, repair that bar, and finish your job.”  He did, but with accepted tutelage from his Dad.
     He took advanced high school courses and, at age 15, joined the air cadets and got his glider pilot’s license.  While at the Royal Military College, he worked hard to lead his summer pilot-training course so as to get his choice of fighter pilot training. On his CF18 tour he worked to be selected for test pilot school which got him to Edwards AFB, California, then Patuxten River Naval Air Station where he mingled with would-be US astronauts and won the 1991 Test Pilot of the Year award.  When he started on this road Canada had no space program so his dream had no hope but, just in case, he would be prepared.
     In 1983 Canada selected its first 8 astronauts.  In 1991 Chris noticed an obscure ad in a Canadian newspaper for 4 more.  He, and 5,329 others, applied.  His wife, Helene, was a great help in preparing an elaborate resumé.  Five months of tests, interviews, and medicals ensued before he was advised he could pack his bags for Houston and 4 years of intense training before his first space flight of 8 days in 1994 to dock with MIR, the Russian space station (the only Canadian to do so), followed by 7 busy years before his second in 2001 to the ISS, during which, in a space walk, he installed Canadarm2 .   Selected as NASA’s Director of Operations in Star City, 2001-03 he and Helene chose Russian, rather than US,  quarters, learned the language, and mingled with Russians whom they genuinely admired.  His 3rd and last flight was not until Dec 2012.    In describing his numerous tasks during his ground time of  22 years with NASA, Chris provides a good description of the continuous training and the numerous tasks assigned to him as well as the careers of many of his astronaut friends.  His comparisons of the Shuttle  and Soyuz as well as the ISS are very detailed and informative.
     His guitar playing and his family, two sons and a daughter, receive frequent mention along with his parents and brother.  His son, Evan, was a major factor in polishing and preparing his guitar playing and acting out how to do things in space for the electronic media, so much so that Chris’s “Space Oddity” from the ISS received 7 million hits from a worldwide audience.
     Now, as Chris stepped  down from the NASA ladder in July 2013 only to start his climb on another, we can wish him well at the University of Waterloo where his first assignment will be to explain why some astronauts get fainting spells on returning to earth which bears a relationship to elderly people prone to falling like me, but I blame it on Mother Earth and Grace Gravity falling madly in love with me, grabbing me, and crushing me to their bosoms.  I will be interested in Chris’s research.

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