My Personal Space
I have a crush on space - outer space. Idolising the unattainable, I gaze longingly at photographic likenesses of the cosmos from my collection of books, photographs and documentaries. Transfixed by its arresting beauty I have maintained this long distance love obsession for quite some time.
I’m not sure where this passion came from or whether it is common to most people. I was introduced to ‘space out there’ at an early age when my father showed me the night sky explaining how it’s possible to find one's way according to the orientation of star constellations. Having pilot experience it sounded like a very special skill to have and I suppose it was then that my attention was first drawn to the sky and what was beyond - those exotic realms that are hidden from the naked eye.
You'd think that the 'Universe Spectacular' would be enough but I also become weak kneed over other space-related matters such as space travel, the Apollo Missions, the International Space Station and space aparatus: the language, sounds and imagery are all exhillirating to me.
LIght Source, Pamela Bain, painting with digital processes, 2017
I'm standing beside the engine boosters of Apollo 18 at NASA, Houston, in 2014.
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I have made four pilgrimages to NASA Houston over the past fifteen years. The Control Room (right) is a favourite as well as Apollo 18 with its Saturn 5 rocket – the yellow and white structure below. Saturn 5 was a three-stage liquid-fuelled super heavy-lift launch vehicle and was developed to support the Apollo program between 1967 and 1973. Unfortunately, the Apollo program was cancelled before Apollo 18’s mission was launched.
The above photo was shot in the training centre where experiments are underway
in preparation for a Mars expedition.
INTERVIEW WITH AN ASTRONAUT
Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian astronaut and former Commander of the International Space Station, was coming to town and giving a talk at the writer’s festival. I’d seen him on YouTube doing his version of Space Oddity – brilliant idea – and I decided, rather late in the day, that I wanted to interview him for EATT Magazine. Nothing ventured, hey? I set about finding the relevant contact person who told me he was all booked up but that I could submit a question or two on a chat room blog type thing and he might respond at some stage. Ok, that was easy. I was really interested to know if there was any hint of political argy bargy on board the ISS seeing as there were a number of nations represented – in particular – America and Russia. I was also interested to know what he thought the role of artist could be in relating the experience of an astronaut and/or seeing the cosmos. I left it at that and forgot about it.
About ten days later, while in Hobart, I received a phone call from the person I’d spoken to who was beside herself with excitement. Apparently, out of all the questions posted, he chose mine and was available for a skype interview when he got back to Canada. It was an OMG moment. I played it cool pretending I was totally ‘down’ with skype and a date was set for two weeks hence when I was back in Melbourne. I spent much time scripting questions etc. and I had read his recent book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. When the evening came I felt secure in my preparation but incredibly nervous.
He phoned, I answered, and away we floated.
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 used 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 space.” 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 fulfil 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 and a happy experience that ended all too quickly.
Observations of an Astronaut, Part 1
By space-age junkie Pamela Bain for EATT Magazine
Observations of an Astronaut, Part 2
Pamela Bain continues her interview for EATT magazine with former NASA astronaut, Chris Hadfield, as he talks about art, attitudes, and our amazing Earth
Hanging up his space suit for good Colonel Chris Hadfield’s work on Earth, in one sense, is just beginning and these days his objective centres on sharing his astonishing experiences with a world audience which also included a recent interview with me.
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Listening to Chris Hadfield’s skywalking encounters and philosophical insights I remained happily enthralled. Being an artist as well as space age addict I was heartened when the words ‘art’ and ‘gallery’ entered the conversation. Chris said of his cosmic observations, “It’s as if someone locked you in an art gallery and you went through very quickly once and then you spend a week in an art gallery...after a week ...the paintings would be something very different for you and there’s a sort of an intimacy and great familiarity and understanding that comes over time - so the emotional reaction is all of those things.” Enjoying this analogy – one of many - I began to consider Chris in a new light – Chris the artist. Let’s face it Chris has written a suite of music on board the International Space Station and performed it with a symphony orchestra, he’s produced a book of head turning photography, plays lead guitar, sings, writes and...it’s a long list. Posing the idea to him he acknowledged these achievements but with humility replied, “I’m not really sure where the threshold of artist begins.” True – those boundaries are vague at best. While on the subject of creativity I probed further into his view of art. He responded, “We truly communicate through art of course. That’s how humans communicate with each other through poetry and through visuals. That’s why pictures are worth a thousand words.” I ventured to ask how he sees the role of artist in expressing the astronaut experience and was heartened by his response that, “...it depends on what portion of it they want to express...they would need to come and spend a bunch of time to see what it’s truly like to be one – or if they want to interpret the environment of course the odd video and photography are as evocative as we can possibly make it. I think the closest to understanding the environment is through the Imax movies...they give you the real sense of being there and the combination of the sound and the three D visuals.” Great, I thought! I’ll pursue my cosmic interpretations and, lucky for me an Imax is just down the road. I felt encouraged and elated – a ‘spacey’ sensation all of my own.
STEERING OUR GLOBAL SHIP
Witnessing the unique overview of Earth has clarified the world for Col. Hadfield in a very new way; seeing it now more cohesively as a shared environment and a precious life source. Noting the responsibility we all have in caring for the wellbeing of our global home he commented, “...the perspective that you have when you’ve been around the world several 1000 times is one of unification, one of shared experience, and one of shared responsibility. It is inevitable for us to notice that we are all in this together and there are enough of us now that we can, not only do harm to each other, but to the place where we live.” Speaking passionately he emphasised that, “everyone is willing to blame someone else or point the finger at some other organisation or at some political party or at some company or whatever...”. Suggesting that we must all make a personal contribution instead of labelling others as the problem makers he elaborated, “...you have to make people feel individually personally responsible for themselves in this world as crew members of this ship. I would hate it if all my crew members did on the space station was blame other crew members or blame NASA while at the same time were contributing nothing to the crew, and yet so many people on Earth drop into that role and feel that it’s ok. We need to change our individual perception – the fact that the difference one person makes is collectively the difference that everybody makes.” Informed by his outer space perspective he said, “I think that’s something you see very clearly when you get 400 km above, [Earth], and I try to help people to think, and not to just say whatever the currently elected party we have - they're the real problem. If we elect the other political party suddenly everything is going to be solved? It's a foolish deferrment of
Photo, Pamela Bain, model - space walk simulation at
The Visitor's Centre, NASA Houston, 2014.
or displacement of responsibility – responsibility rests on each of our shoulders.” He didn’t know it in Canada but due South in Melbourne I was cheering. My rocket boosters were firing and I felt charged with enthusiasm as I, too, rally against one eyed self righteousness and resistance to objectivity. We’ve all heard the savage abuse cross-firing between politicians to a non constructive end that only weakens the prospect of collaboration. The Earth is ‘common ground’ for us all and the sooner we stand on it together the better. An unrealistic ask perhaps but a noble hope nevertheless.
Hitching a ride with an astronaut and buoyed by his narratives and insights was an enlightening experience for me, but sadly all journeys end and thirty minutes had time warped to a seeming few seconds. We said goodbye and landing back in my office, weighted to my chair once more, I began to process my own ‘spaced out’ odyssey. I considered how the sight of Earth from space has been said, by many if not all space travellers, to evoke a sense of humanity and an understanding of the interconnection of all life. Yet, this has often preceded a feeling of despair or frustration in the knowledge that earthbound conflicts are endangering the wellbeing of us and our planet. I wonder then, If we were all able to access the same mind expanding experience, could some kind of accord between nations and each other then be achieved for the health of the globe and it’s community? An idealistic expectation I suppose, but finding ways to overcome crises have often emerged from new stimulation, imagination and visionary thinking, which I feel captures the spirit of Chris Hadfield’s efforts in conveying his stories to us. Perhaps the hope that one day we can steer our global ship together may not be such a crazy notion after all.
ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY OF VICTORIA (ASV)
Here's Nancy, my telescope.
With my telescope, Nancy, in 2018 at the Dark Site.
Rick, my husband, and I joined the ASV in 2016. As well as monthly meetings at the Herbarium located in the Botanic Gardens other sub groups are available to join such as the Solar Section, Astrophotography Section, and the Cosmology and Astro-Physics Section. A number of events take place each year including two Star B Cues where members gather at their location in Heathcote referred to as the Dark Site, (Leon Mow Dark Sky Site), which has very little light pollution. Here, they have a radio dish and a 25in telescope, plus the arrival of a 40inch telescope is expected mid 2018. In December 2017, at one of these events, I won a door prize which was quite a valuable attachment for the telescope that helps locate constellations, nebulae, planets and other cosmic features .
Perry Vlahos, President, is abundantly helpful and has given us much assistance. Thanks Perry.
We are also members of the Mount Burnett Observatory and have been to some fascinating talks and seen astrophotography in action thanks to Neil Creek, astro-photographer.