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Column: Chris Hadfield is inspiring a new generation of astronauts

With photos shared on social media and down-to-earth video interviews, Commander Chris Hadfield is surely inspiring many young people to become astronauts and to work in other areas of the space industry, writes Colm Quinn.

Image: AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove

THE WORLD’S SPACE agencies put the International Space Station into space, but Commander Chris Hadfield connected the world’s people to it.

His stunning photographs along with their poetic captions have shown us our world from a different perspective, literally and figuratively. Yes, we’ve all seen photos of the Earth from space before but it’s been different this time.

They’re not taken so they can be scoured over and analysed by research teams; he wants us to learn about space and the Earth. These photos are taken specifically for us, and shared on Twitter and Facebook for the whole world to see.

It’s hard not to get a little romantic

There is real community spirit to everything Hadfield does. He’s made informative and entertaining videos to answer people’s questions about simple everyday living on the ISS. Whenever he mentions the population of a city, he never says two, four or six million “people live there” – it’s always two, four or six million of “us”.

He’s been taking pictures of everywhere on the planet and a few nice ones of Ireland as well. His photos are artistic and the captions that go along with them are more poetic than you’d expect from an astronaut. But if you’re looking out over the entire planet and getting hit by 16 sunrises a day I suppose it’s hard not to get a little romantic.

He strikes you as such a nice guy. He recently led a singalong with schools all across Canada; at the end, while someone was asking him a question, he was just floating upside down (if there’s such a thing in space) playing the guitar, with a smile on his moustachioed face.

Changing our whole view of the world

Hadfield makes life on something which cost many, many billions look so casual. Others may want to explain the engineering behind how the space station was built and how it was all put up into orbit and how sensitive all the equipment is. But he’ll be explaining something with the microphone in his hand, then let it float in front of him while he makes a sandwich.

His videos show you how they do different things in space like brushing your teeth, getting sick, wringing out a cloth and many more. His pictures are great too – but he is, of course, great at explaining the science behind the space station and the different effects being in space has on the body. He explains how eyesight is affected and how the bones of your body start to lose density.

Some of the photographs have changed our whole view of some parts of the world. Take the Sahara. Before seeing his photos I thought it was just a seemingly endless sea of golden sand dunes which were all pretty much the same. But then you see the photos and it’s actually a mosaic of different shades and colours, with rock formations making lines across the Earth. What you’d think is one of the most uniform places in the world is actually one of the most diverse.

Few of us ever get the chance to Earthgaze

It’s ironic that astronauts spend most of their lives looking up at the stars and dreaming of being among them but when they get up there the most amazing thing and the thing that they want to do the most is look back down.

Hadfield said, “When I get back from this I’m going to regret every minute I spent not looking at the world.” You have your whole life to stargaze but only a few of us ever get the chance to Earthgaze.

With his photos and videos he is surely inspiring many young people to become astronauts and to work in other areas of the space industry. By taking these photos and videos it is clear he wants everyone in the world to be a part of what they are doing on this space station. More than that though, he wants us to really look at our planet and ourselves and see the how special all of it is.

‘The exploration of the universe can become part of everybody’s life’

He said, “The exploration of the universe around our planet is something that can become part of everybody’s life. And not just the science, the science is important but also the humanity of it, the beauty of it, the wonder of it, the perspective it gives to us and the music that goes along with it. Those things are what make exploration worthwhile because of what they bring back to us all.”

Commander Hadfield arrived back to Earth this morning, where there were many people eager to get a piece of him.

He’s changed the ISS from a big chunk of metal miles above our heads, which not many people paid much attention to, into something we care about. He has made it our space station.

Colm Quinn is a freelance journalist based in Wexford.

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