A Review Of Chris Hadfield's fantastic talk at the Perth Convention Centre

Chris Hadfield and myself. Image Credit: Matt Woods

The night of August the 13th, 2015 will go down as one of the highlights of my life. That was the night I had the privilege of attending Chris Hadfield’s A Spaceman’s View of the Planet Talk at the Riverside Theatre, Perth Convention Centre. A retired Canadian astronaut, Chris rose to prominence by creating short videos answering school children’s question and covering David Bowie’s song Space Oddity while commanding the International Space Station.

The talk which was host by Journalist Ray Martin started with Chris describing how like so many of his generation, it was watching Neil Armstrong taking mankind’s first footsteps on another world where he made his mind up that he wanted to become an astronaut.

Chris Hadfield in his Russian Sokhol pressure suit. Image Credit: Chris Hadfield

Because Canada didn’t have space program at the time you could forgive him for giving up on that dream, but Chris explained to the audience how he broke down this dream into challenges and set out to fulfil each one in the hope that by completing them it would lead him to reach his ultimate dream. These challenges included joining the Royal Canadian Air Cadets and Air Force so he could learn how to fly and fly fighter jets, become a test pilot where he would develop the problem-solving skills needed to become an astronaut, learn to scuba dive as astronaut practice spacewalks in a giant pool, learning to speak Russian so his communicate with Russian Cosmonauts, and finally to study aerospace engineering and robotics which he would need for spacewalks and to use the Canadarm. This prepared him so when the Canada Space Program which had finally been formed advertised for their second intake of astronauts, Chris stood out from the pack.

This goal setting has been a constant in his life; with Chris telling the story of the time he was going to meet Elton John. Realising that Elton may ask him to sing his song Rocketman with him, Chris spent the next week learning to sing the song and play it on the guitar. Alas, the opportunity didn’t arise, but as the talk went into intermission we were able to listen to his wonderful rendition of Rocketman.

Perth from space taken. Image Credit: Chris Hadfield

Coming back from intermission Chris told us while this was his first time in Perth, he’d already fallen in love with our city while orbiting the world some 2600 times in two Space Shuttles and the ISS. “Perth really stands out like a jewel because your south-west cape is the first part of Australia you see when you’re flying over the Indian Ocean”. Chris then recalled on one of his two spacewalks, as the Shuttle flew over Perth he had a life-changing moment as he stopped work on the Russian Mir Space Station for the 7-minute journey across Australia but found the ribbons of the Aurora Australis dancing all around him.

“You see Australia for what it truly is, not just the little pinpoints where you have been but the entire land — the colours of it, the age of it, the patience of it, the inexhaustible refreshing beauty of it,” he said. He added that his favourite sight was of the Australian outback. “The textures and the colours and the uniqueness of the outback, you know immediately where you are,” he said. Other stories from his spacewalks included been temporarily blinded by a water droplet from his water bottle that got glass cleaning agent in it when it made contact with his visor and watching continents passing by him while the universe in all its glory sparkled around the Earth.

Perth from space taken. Image Credit: Chris Hadfield

Once Chris was finished telling us the tales of his journeys on the Space Shuttle he moved onto his experience commanding the International Space Station. It nearly didn’t happen due to emergency surgery that was very close to launch date to remove scar tissue that was leftover from when he had his appendix removed. He told the audience of enjoying the sites of Star City and the Baikonur Cosmodrome, following Yuri Gagarin footsteps and peeing on the right back wheel of the bus that takes them to the rocket for good luck, and what it was like being cooped up in a Soyuz spacecraft with two other guys for a few days before reaching the station.

He also gave some more background on performing the cover of Space Oddity which garnered him 1.4 million Twitter followers and 26 million YouTube views. It actually started with a requested from his son Ethan, while hesitate to perform it due to the song ending with Major Tom dying, Chris promised Ethan that if he rewrote the ending to make it a happy ending he would sing it. His cover was so good that David Bowie hailed Chris’s version as the most poignant version of his song he had ever heard.

The talk concluded with a Q and A session and Chris singing his cover of Space Oddity, but for a lucking few including myself, we got to meet him after the talk. When you meet him you come face to face with one of the worlds most humble person, not to mention one with a very strong handshake. He chatted to us as if we were good friends while getting our photo taken together, and then took our questions until well after he was supposed to leave. I asked him what it was like to work with John Young whose missions included Apollo 10 & 16, Gemini 3 & 10, and two Shuttle missions, one being the first shuttle mission. He told me that John and he are great friends, with John looking after Chris’s dog when they go on holidays. He told the story of when he and his family were going to South Africa for a holiday, John was worried that with its high crime rate that they maybe kill. When Chris reassured John that nothing was going to happen, John replied back “Well if something does happen, can I keep your dog?” to which Chris answered, “yes you can”.

Chris Hadfield continues to share his experiences through speaking tours, an animated comedy science education series and his life-lessons book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth and space photography book You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes.