Chris Hadfield Exclusive Interview: Astronaut Discusses 'Space Oddity' And The Future Of The International Space Station

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Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield used social media to provide unprecedented access to life aboard the International Space Station. Hadfield was far from an overnight success, joining the Canadian Armed Forces in 1978 and later flying CF-18 fighter jets for North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD.

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Hadfield became a CSA astronaut in 1992 and served as Expedition 35 commander aboard the ISS. Hadfield spent 146 days in orbit, 144 days aboard the ISS, and completed 2,336 orbits of Earth. Hadfield retired from the CSA but will be teaching at the University of Waterloo beginning in 2014.

Rather than take a break, Hadfield spent his first months back on Earth writing a book, "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything." Speaking to International Business Times, Hadfield said writing a book was nowhere near as difficult as being an astronaut, but he enjoyed the challenge and has a busy schedule promoting it. He said he was delighted by the book's reception and early success, saying, "We really wanted the book to be both entertaining and useful, and we're seeing a real positive reaction all over the place. It's like No. 1 or 2 in business, advice and self-help on Amazon, so it's great."

For Hadfield, success boils down to two things: being competent and having fun. He stresses "the absolute necessity to be competent, to be able to do what it is you are doing and focus, and that means doing the work ahead of time, studying and internalizing. If you want be an astronaut, or anything really, that's kind of step one; how do you make sure you have the skills, at all levels that are required at what you are trying to do, and that becomes contagious." Balancing hard work with enjoyment is crucial, and Hadfield says that you should be having fun each step of the way to "look around and laugh and be constantly ready to take delight at the things that will inevitably happen."

In an exclusive interview with IBT, Hadfield discussed what life was like aboard the ISS, what it means to be a leader and the future of the ISS, spaceflight and space programs. 

"If you manage to remind yourself of those two things, you and the people around you are bound to be more successful and have more fun doing what you doing, whether that's going to the movies or flying a spaceship," Hadfield said.

You are known for having a sense of humor, and what did you do to prepare for your time aboard the International Space Station?

Hadfield: I think if any of us had waited until we were at the space station, it would have been a real crap shoot, a real gamble. If you didn't really know the people and you hadn't spent a lot of time building a mutual understanding and capability with them. I started working years in advance to the flight to make sure that we were going to have as few surprises and conflicts as we could. So that helped a lot, so we didn't just have someone in a funk or someone who was not understood. And then, while you're in orbit as well, there's a huge external command.

There's actually a computer called OSTTP, basically it's everybody's schedule. It's a huge multicolored graphic that shows all the things that everybody's doing. Then there's inexorable red line that moves from left to right that is timed and you are constantly trying to get everything done so that the red line doesn't get ahead of where you are and it becomes the metronome of everybody's life. So that's actually not a bad thing to have, if you look at it the right way, because then you get a constant measure of how you are doing, it tells you the pace you need to work at, tells you when you actually have free time because you are ahead of the game and gives you the opportunity to look and see when someone else is obviously getting too busy and falling behind. So then, you could apply your free time to somebody else to help them out and help them get ahead and it becomes the big barometer of how we are all doing.

Then, on the other side, especially while I was commander, the necessity to get together on a regular basis and just talk and listen to how everybody is doing, listen to what's good and what's frustrating, especially the crew members whose native tongue isn't the same one as yours. Really, carefully listening to what they are saying, or are trying to say, so you don't let anyone build up a perpetual grudge, I don't remember any of that happening. As a result of all of that, with the good luck of having the right mix of personalities and people aboard, I don't recall any time in the whole five or six months we were up there together, that anybody ever got into a conflict.

What qualities make for a successful astronaut? Do you need to be a leader?

Hadfield: In the book I talk about people trying to be a "+1, 0 or -1" and I actually named the chapter “Aim to be a zero” or “Aim for zero” because it's a little bit counterintuitive but it addresses what you are asking about leadership. A lot of people see themselves as a leader, or they see leadership is needed and so they exert their influence in a situation and often they have the exact opposite effect that they think they will. You can go into a situation and get a quick impression of what's going on and draw your conclusions based on what you see, the amount of time given to yourself and then you start taking action.

If you are convinced that what you are doing is right, you're coming in and leading and making decisions to make things better, you swear you are positive, a +1. But, in fact, because you haven't given it enough time, and I've seen this before in the air force and at NASA, because you haven't gotten the lay of the land, haven't allowed yourself to be a good enough listener and a good enough follower, you are actually a -1, you are actually doing damage. You may be physically messing something up or you are just not in tune to all of the situation or the people and you're definitely the opposite of the leader you thought you were being.

And that applies in a lot of situations on Earth and it sure applies in orbit as well. It's easy to come in and make snap decisions, especially when you are designated a position of leadership, but it is so much better to at least give yourself a period of aiming for zero, of trying not to exert your particular perception of leadership and force it on the people around you and then, when you do decide that leadership is needed, be discriminating about it, to be discerning about it. You know, if the building is on fire, that's a different case, you have to start taking action, you have to order people, but very seldom is the building on fire and a lot of leaders act as if the building is always on fire.

There has been an increased awareness and new interest in science and space, due to people like you and Neil deGrasse Tyson as well as the success of movies like “Gravity.” What's next for the ISS and space programs? There were some concerns about the ISS retiring in 2020 as well.

Hadfield: The ISS is a constant, year-by-year, funded project and nothing in the U.S. budget goes beyond one year at a time, of course, and you look ahead and 2020 is still seven years away and to say the ISS will retire in 2020 is far out reaching any practical decisions that are being made.

With the space station, it is all under discussion, how long it will be funded for its operational costs, that's just so far out to extrapolate at this point but other countries that are part of the ISS have already agreed to fund it beyond that. So, yeah, it's a natural process and to think it's been agreed to be funded as far as seven years ahead, that's almost two complete presidential administrations that need to demonstrate their support.

And in regards to manned missions and space programs?

Hadfield: Well, we need to continuously ask if it is worth it. That's the most valid question, we only have so much effort, so much gross domestic product, so much tax money and we need to constantly address, 'Are we doing this right?' 'Is this the right thing to do?' 'Is this the right percentage of our sweat and toil? How much do we spend on roads, on railways, on whatever and it's a discussion every space-fairing nation has and it's healthy one and it's one we ought to have.

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And, when you come right down to it, the real answer should be with the taxpayer, right? They are the ones footing the bill for it and they should agree that, of every whatever million or so we are spending, this particular amount should be spent on space travel because we think that's proportionately correct.

So how do you determine that? How do people even know? If they don't know what the space station does, or worse, they don't even know the space station exists, then it's very difficult for anybody to make an informed decision, or where we should go next. How could you possibly ask someone to make that recommendation if it hasn't been shown to them.

The beauty of the space station, and of human spaceflight, is that it is now at a level of maturity where you can invite people on-board, which is what I worked so hard to do on social media and all the videos I made. I could take a photograph, put it on my computer, send it to the ground with my thoughts as to why this was an interesting or important perspective of the world and do that interactively with the people and not telling people they need a space program but look at the world and what we can do, look at the world and what it looks like, look at how we see ourselves, have a look at the experiments that we have aboard, and that, to me, is the real key.

You have to show people and allow people to see what it does for us, to make an informed decisions on what to spend money on, and how much, and the reaction we got is very clear.

Millions of people are starting to see the world through the technological eyes that I could provide for them and if you track the number of people that were following what NASA is doing on the science side in the year, research the 200 or so experiments aboard, there's a distinct mean curve with the increased access that social media allows, there's a sudden, sharp change, slope increase, in the number of people that are following what NASA does.

It demonstrated the inherent interest that's out there, and the Bowie video is kind of a bizarre example of it, in that if you show them that this is not just a place to do research but also a place to think a little more about ourselves culturally, to see this perspective of ourselves and our place in our own developments here in the world, through the eyes of our cameras it brings us a perspective that's hard to get any other way and the reaction to that has been huge.

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