Yahoo! exclusive: Astronaut Chris Hadfield calls space ‘an amazing place to be’

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield will make his third trip into space later this month, when he and his crew depart for a six-month journey to the International Space Station.

The retired military colonel has accomplished many feats during his decades-long career as an astronaut. He was the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm in space and the first to take a spacewalk. Hadfield will become the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station during his next mission, launching on Dec. 19.

Hadfield discussed with Yahoo! Canada News the challenges of command and his experiences in space during a telephone interview from Space City, Russia. This is a condensed version of that conversation.

Yahoo! Canada News: This will be your third trip to space. It's getting old hat for you, I'm sure. What do you go through leading up to a launch like you have on Dec. 19?

Chris Hadfield: There is nothing old hat about it. I have been an astronaut for 20 years and I have been in space for 20 days. It is an extremely rare human experience and an immensely rare and personal experience. It is huge.

For this particular flight I have been training for about four years and the initial few years are all theory. We train in Japan and Germany and the Ukraine, in various places in Europe, Canada and the U.S. We train on all the systems and experiments and we start to get focused in the year prior to the flight, getting into simulators, all to give you the background, depth and specific set of skills so we can climb into the Soyuz rocket ship and fly it and dock it and operate in space for six months.

Y! Canada: Space flight must be a remarkable experience, and you have set some milestones during your career. Can you talk about your past experiences? What moments stand you to you the most?

Hadfield: My first flight was on space shuttle Atlantis and we went and built part of the Russian space station MIR. The whole thing was a highlight. It was an amazing experience. I was on the flight deck of a space shuttle. I was the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm. I used it to build this big Russian docking module.

Y! Canada: And it was your second flight that you did a spacewalk outside the station, wasn't it?

Hadfield: Yeah, I was the first Canadian to do a spacewalk. The purpose was to connect Canadarm2 onto the International Space Station. It was just brand new. We unbolted it, unfolded it and brought it to life on the first spacewalk. … We went out on the second spacewalk and got it working. We spent about 15 hours outside, 10 times around the world.

Doing a spacewalk is the most humbling and mesmerizing experience of my life. Everything else pales in comparison to holding on with one hand in between the world and the universe. It is an amazing place to be.

Y! Canada: Is there anything on Earth comparable to that? Is there any way for a guy like me to understand that feeling? I would guess no.

Hadfield: Maybe if you climbed cliffs and were to hang on an immense cliff, like Half Dome at Yosemite (National Park). Maybe if you go up the CN Tower and picture yourself hanging onto the CN Tower with one hand while floating weightless with the whole world laid out before you.

I have been a fighter pilot, I have been a test pilot for many years. And there is nothing. I have been there for the birth of all three of my children. There is nothing that compares to be outside on a spacewalk. It gives you a perspective of the world. It is mind-numbingly beautiful. It is stupefyingly beautiful. It takes your breath away. I highly recommend it.

Y! Canada: Ha, I'll take you up on it if I have the chance. What challenges are in store for you on this trip?

Hadfield: This time I am flying the Soyuz. Commander Roman Romanenko and I will co-pilot, so that is new for me. We will dock with the space station and will be there about five months. And for the last three months I will be the commander of the space station. And that is pretty amazing.

Y! Canada: That is very Captain Kirk; it sounds very exciting. As the commander of a space station, what do your duties entail?

Hadfield: The main part of the job has already happened. I've been designated the commander of this group of people for years, so I didn't say, 'let's wait until we get there and see how it goes.' I've led the team developing all our skills, working everybody's training plan and developing all the deep relationships amongst us. I will be responsible for everybody's health and how it is going. But these people are competent and professional.

Y! Canada: What kind of challenges will you face as commander?

Hadfield: If something goes wrong, if one of us has a family member who gets sick, or loses a family member. How do you psychologically deal with that as a crew? Or if one of us gets sick, or if the space station gets sick. If the station takes a meteor hit and gets a leak, or if we have a fire or something awful on board. Then I am absolutely the commander and make all the decisions about whether people live or die. That is always in the back of your mind the whole time.

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