Q & A with Astronaut Chris Hadfield

Of the 7.3 billion people on this planet, only a few ever get to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. But thanks to Canadian astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield, anyone can get a sense of what it's like to go to space.

Hadfield, who flew on two space shuttle missions and is a former commander of the International Space Station (ISS), made dozens of videos while on board the ISS in 2013. They offer a fascinating glimpse of the daily routines that astronauts perform while living in microgravity, from how they clean up spills to how they brush their teeth.


Hadfield also famously strummed and sang "Space Oddity" — the David Bowie song about an astronaut — while on the ISS. After Hadfield recorded the song in space, his son Evan Hadfield edited a video of the performance that has gathered more than 36 million views on YouTube.

The Bowie tune is one of 12 tracks on an album of songs that Chris Hadfield recorded on the ISS, titled "Space Sessions: Songs from a Tin Can." Now retired as an astronaut, Hadfield has written several books about his experiences as a military pilot and a spaceflyer, and he continues to make music and perform science outreach and education.


You've had plenty of success using social media for science — it's great for quickly connecting to large numbers of people! But is it effective for stimulating long-term interest in science?


In 1435, if you had a new idea, it was really difficult to let anybody else know about it, especially if you weren't a person who was "supposed" to have a good idea — if you weren't part of the intelligentsia. But when Gutenberg made the printing press in 1440, by 1500 they had printed 2 million volumes. A lot of them were crap, of course, but a lot of them were brilliant, and that explosion of access to information was revolutionary, and that pace of communication has only accelerated. Social media is just another form of communication. And the social side, I think, is the most important part. That any human being on Earth with an original idea now has a way to share it with any other human being on Earth, with no impediment. You don't have to be in the king's court for someone to hear what you have to say. You don't have to be a professor at Harvard. You can just be a person with an idea. Because the real measure of communication is changing behavior. If you haven't changed someone's behavior, you haven't really communicated with them. You were just talking to yourself.


Not at all — the exact opposite. I've been a musician since I was a kid, [but] I've only ever played one Bowie tune in my entire life, and I never played it before I was in orbit. I had no preconceived plan at all. I've written lots of music and performed music my whole life. I fronted bands in Houston for 20 years. I flew in space three times. On my third flight, I knew there was a guitar up on the space station, so I just made sure I had enough strings and capos and picks up there, and I just played it every day. My brother and I wrote a Christmas carol called "Jewel in the Night," and I got there [to the ISS] three days before Christmas, so I slapped the iPad up on the wall and did a one-take record with just an ambient mic of "Jewel in the Night." My son Evan released it through SoundCloud [an audio distribution platform], and the reaction sort of built from that, with people saying, "Hey, if you're gonna do that, you should do 'Oddity.'" That crossover of fantasy and imagination and fiction is where you can allow yourself to imagine something that doesn't exist yet. That's where invention happens, and that's where the science moves in to make it happen. People who didn't even know there was a space station understand life on a spaceship better as a result of that song. And there was no big plan. I just shot that in a couple of hours one Saturday afternoon, just flipping around singing to myself.


Let's talk about your "Space Oddity" video. You're a musician as well as an astronaut, so did you plan on performing this song in space as soon as you knew you'd be heading to the ISS?

"The sky is not the limit."