Observations of an astronaut (part one)
e By space age junkie Pamela Bain for EATT
From test pilot to Commander of the International Space Station, Colonel Chris Hadfield is an accomplished elite professional with many more impressive titles to his record as well as being the first Canadian astronaut. With skills also extending to writing, music composition, rhythm guitar and vocal artist this is a truly versatile individual. His famous cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity performed aboard the space station was a genius marriage of art and reality. Being a self-confessed Space Age junkie myself, (four visits to NASA Houston, personal library of moon mission material, and keen on cosmic matters), I was understandably eager to read An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth, written by this former astronaut. Binging on the nail biting cliff-hangers, amusing anecdotes, and life lessons found within this page turning odyssey I was thrilled to speak recently with the author himself.
OUR WONDROUS EARTH
With questions short listed and skype sorted, I ventured forth on my expedition – to discover what an astronaut thought, felt and saw from outer space. I firstly asked about his impressions of Earth from such an exclusive vantage point. He responded, “I was overwhelmed by the beauty of Earth. You just want to grab somebody and say, Look at that! It’s the most beautiful rainbow, or sunset, or explosion, or piece of music that you’ve ever heard in your whole life and it’s perpetual.” I noticed how, lovingly, even passionately, he spoke of our planet’s outer space image which appeared to him as a, “rare and exquisite blue diamond on an endless pillow of black velvet, it is glorious, it is mesmerizingly wonderful, and it’s constantly changing…”. So dumbfounded was Hadfield by Earth’s portrait that his voice became increasingly tender, even emotional with each heartfelt description, such as, “Coming face to face with the world was more visually powerful…it was stupefying…it made me stupid; it made me slack-jawed and unable to do anything else for a little while.” Back in Melbourne my jaw was also less than firmly set as he continued, “It would have been an insult for me to stop and turn away from the immensity and beauty of looking at the world itself. The main emotion for me was awesome...I was truly awestruck”, here Hadfield uses the word ‘awesome’ in its truest sense. Envious, yet enraptured, I floated along with the narrator, spellbound by accounts of weightlessness, of flying ‘spacelings’ and meeting the cosmos and our own world so intimately. I wanted to know more about Earth’s image; he indulged, “To see it as an orb, to see it suspended magically in the midst of an endless nothingness – that makes it even more surreal – improbable.” I was an innocent enthralled by a mystical fairy-tale of a faraway fantasy land but this was actually our Earth and via Hadfiled’s account I met my home in a whole new mind expanding way.
SPIRIT OF COLLABORATION
Knowing Colonel Hadfield had been the Commander of the International Space Station, from March to May during a five month stint in 2013, I was keen to know more about life aboard the floating science lab and whether world events affected the crew given their cultural diversity. He replied, “I was the Commander of a group of people from all over Earth.. Of course we discussed (global issues), and we tend to view most of the power hungry, and short term thinking as manifestations of human behaviour. We tend to view them all the same way. It doesn’t matter what country you grew up in. I had people from multiple languages and cultures in my crew - you know it’s somewhere in between amusement and despair to see what people get up to.” I was particularly heartened by this comment, “The vast majority of people are very good and do good things and looking for grace, peace and beauty and being kind...so we talk about that.” He went on to say, “...we put things into proper perspective and the parts of the world that are hot spots – a lot of them have been hot spots for decades, for centuries, for millennia,” Hadfileld then focuses on the collaborative efforts between countries and how they are, “co-operatively starting to explore the Earth in person.” Chris’s sentiments of partnership and joining forces regardless of difference resonated, for me, with a profound sense of hope and humanity; surely, I thought, as a global population we, and I mean the global ‘we’ – the ‘us’ of our Earth - can strive to attain a similar perspective that embraces peace, grace, and an acceptance of each other in all our diverseness. This was a twenty minute interview with much more to come. On the subjects of photography, music, the artist’s role in translating such experiences, Colonel Hadfield was fascinating and insightful. On his philosophical views of life on Earth … but more of that in the next issue.
Inspiring and enjoyable, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, published by Macmillan is a de-glamorised rendering of an astronaut’s life and of how a boy of nine formed strategies to fulfill a dream. Openly honest and non-preachy this work also functions well as a motivational tool - even a work ethic manual in so much as the author stresses the importance of exercising humility and respect for others while emphasising the need to sustain focus and strive for improvement which, for Chris, meant ongoing study, continual practice, and ‘working the problem’. I suggest this guide can be usefully applied to most work place situations as well as offer personal enrichment.
With each page of personal narrative the reader can ride along with an astronaut and in so doing become charged with a renewed appreciation of our precious planet. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth also offers a thoughtfully profound world perspective that suggested, for me, who we can be as a global community. With an uncomplicated and informal writing style it was a pleasure to read; a happy experience that ended all too quickly.