The man who dared to do the im­pos­si­ble

David Bowie and an his­toric moon land­ing were ir­re­sistible

Central and North Burnett Times - - READ - BY Chris Hook

HE’S one of the coolest as­tro­nauts to ever walk in space and the man who breathed new life into a rock clas­sic. Chris Had­field was al­ready mak­ing a name for him­self on so­cial me­dia, chron­i­cling life aboard the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion. Then, on May 12, 2013, he re­leased a cover ver­sion of David Bowie’s Space Od­dity from the ISS and be­came a su­per­star.

More than 36 mil­lion peo­ple have viewed the Cana­dian as­tro­naut’s YouTube per­for­mance but there was one re­view that stunned him. Bowie him­self la­belled Had­field’s Space Od­dity the “most poignant ver­sion ever cre­ated” in a com­ment on his Face­book page and even helped Had­field through the le­gal com­pli­ca­tions in­volved in post­ing the song on YouTube (the singer’s pub­lisher, rather than Bowie him­self, owned the rights to the song).

“He was so gra­cious,” Had­field says.

“We cor­re­sponded back and forth but I never met him, al­though I wish I had. I just count my­self lucky to have got to know him a lit­tle bit.”

Get­ting per­mis­sion to post the video was not the only prob­lem to over­come – Had­field had to re­learn how to play gui­tar in zero grav­ity.

“It is a lit­tle hard to play up there be­cause there is noth­ing to hold the gui­tar in place,” he says. “On Earth, grav­ity helps sus­pend it from the strap around your neck, or grav­ity pushes the gui­tar down on to your knee so it’s sta­ble, but with­out grav­ity there is noth­ing to hold the gui­tar sta­ble.

“So as soon as you move your left hand up and down the fret board, the gui­tar just takes off.”

Bowie orig­i­nally re­leased the sin­gle in July 1969, a week be­fore the moon land­ing – a piv­otal mo­ment for one lit­tle Cana­dian boy.

Had­field was a month shy of his 10th birth­day and the sight of Neil Arm­strong and Buzz Aldrin walk­ing on the Sea of Tran­quil­lity brought a pro­found re­al­i­sa­tion.

“The recog­ni­tion that im­pos­si­ble things can hap­pen, that’s a big thing to re­alise,” he says.

“Not im­pos­si­ble like win­ning lotto but if you give your­self an out­landish goal and work very hard and co-op­er­ate with a lot of peo­ple to en­able some­thing to hap­pen – that’s a re­ally in­ter­est­ing thing to learn.”

So, de­spite be­ing a cit­i­zen of a coun­try with­out a space pro­gram, the young Had­field was de­ter­mined to be­come an as­tro­naut.

And he did. He be­came the first Cana­dian to walk in space, flew two space shut­tle mis­sions and served a six-month stint as com­man­der of the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion. He spent a to­tal of 166 days in space and, by his own count, has been around the world some 2600 times. That time in space has given him a rare per­spec­tive.

“You get a per­ma­nent, ac­cu­rate and in­deli­ble un­der­stand­ing of the world it­self – the ac­tual silent, an­cient, im­pla­ca­ble beauty of our planet,” he says. “So it makes you eter­nally op­ti­mistic, the tough­ness and the age and the self-re­build­ing na­ture of our planet and how lucky and unique we are and the fact it is un­de­ni­ably one place – you can go around the whole thing in 90 min­utes, so how big can it be?”

The 57-year-old has long been keen to share his com­mit­ment to im­pos­si­ble dreams and has done so on speak­ing tours (he will visit Aus­tralia again in Au­gust), in his two books for adults and now a beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated chil­dren’s pic­ture book called The Dark­est Dark. The au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal work fol­lows a young Chris, who’s afraid of aliens but de­ter­mined to be­come an as­tro­naut.

There’s a real sense of au­then­tic­ity of place in the book. The neigh­bour’s hol­i­day house, where Had­field watched the moon land­ing, still stands and he was able to take the il­lus­tra­tors, Eric and Terry Fan, to see it. The Had­fields’ cot­tage is still there, too, right down to the orig­i­nal wall­pa­per.

Fac­ing and know­ing your fears is a core theme of the book, pub­lished this week.

“It is nor­mal to be afraid, that’s an in­di­ca­tor to your­self that you don’t have enough skills yet,” Had­field says.

“So it is okay to be afraid. The ques­tion is what you do with that fear – how do you face up to risk and dan­ger with­out the ba­sic re­ac­tion of just be­ing fear­ful? How do you treat it some other way, which is a valu­able les­son for a five-year-old but also a 45-year-old.”

Had­field’s lessons are there for all now in his books but there is one young per­son who will have the best in­tro­duc­tion to them.

His baby grand­daugh­ter Eleanor has al­ready had her first les­son. “I have sat her on my lap and read her The Dark­est Dark,” Had­field says.

“To have lived an ex­pe­ri­ence and to have put it into a book and to be able to sit your own grand­daugh­ter on your lap and read it to her might be the big­gest treat of all.”


◗ Cana­dian as­tro­naut Chris Had­field is com­ing to Aus­tralia in Au­gust.


◗ Cana­dian as­tro­naut Chris Had­field with grand­daugh­ter Eleanor.

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