Advice from the astronaut

More close encounters of the Chris Hadfield kind, from the International Space Station.

Chris Hadfield’s view of the rising full moon from the International Space Station.

Chris Hadfield’s view of the rising full moon from the International Space Station.

How do you become an astronaut? Join the air cadets.

That’s just one piece of advice offered by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield when he answered questions sent from Earth last weekend as he orbits the world 16 times a day in the International Space Station.

Also: eat your greens, exercise, do your homework, and be prepared to bump your head. A lot.

“Then you get the suit and rocket,” Hadfield said in an Ask Me Anything session on social news website Reddit.

Hadfield left Earth on December 19 and reached the International Space Station on December 21. All going well, he’ll be in space until May.

Through the wonders of technology, Hadfield has been showing us what Twitter is really good for by posting hundreds of photos of Earth from space. Victoria, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal are some of the Canadian cities he’s captured, as well as some truly extraordinary photos of the Northern Lights from above. It’s the closest most of us will get to being an astronaut.

On Sunday, he spent several hours answering questions from his “sleep station” — a phone-booth-sized padded room that serves as his private quarters on board the space station.

His responses were sometimes amusingly mundane, but more often inspiring and philosophical. You couldn’t read the discussion without wishing you’d chosen a different career path.

Among his revelations: space has no smell, he bumps his head at least once a day, he smiles every time he moves around in zero gravity, weightless is the best way to sleep, and he listens to David Bowie’s Space Oddity regularly, although he has changed the lyrics so Major Tom has a happier ending.

Although seeing the world from space gives you a certain perspective, life on the International Space Station is not without stress.

The Space Station is decked out in special “armour” to protect it against the meteors that constantly hit it.

“Sometimes we hear pings as tiny rocks hit our spaceship, and also the creaks and snaps of expanding metal as we go in and out of sunlight. The solar panels are full of tiny holes from the micro-meteorites,” said Hadfield, adding that they manoeuvre the Space Sation out of the way of larger space debris.

The most dangerous time of the mission is launch, he said, but that’s not to say they’re safe on the Space Station.

“It’s just a steady threat of radiation, meteorite impacts, and vehicle system failure like fire or ammonia breakthrough,” he said.

The scariest moment Hadfield has had so far was a close encounter with a burning meteorite.

“I watched a large meteorite burn up between me and Australia, and to think of that hypersonic dumb lump of rock randomly hurtling into us instead sent a shiver up my back,” he said.

To counter out all that danger, Hadfield has strong convictions about the good he is doing for the human race up there.

“Each astronaut has personal goals as part of their career. One of mine has been education and public awareness of what we are doing in space exploration. This current five-month mission combined with the advent of social media has made this possible like never before. I think it is important that people see the world from this new perspective that technology has given us, and I do my utmost to make that happen,” said Hadfield.

Plus, there are many, many transcendental moments to sustain him.

From space, the sky “looks like a carpet of countless tiny perfect unblinking lights in endless velvet, with the Milky Way as a glowing area of paler texture.”

His experience as Canada’s first spacewalker: “Alone in a 1-person spaceship (my suit), just holding on with my 1 hand, with the bottomless black universe on my left and the World pouring by in technicolor on my right.”

On the Northern and Southern Lights: “A fantastic continuous light show as we swing north and south, just shimmering and dancing there, demanding to be stared at.”

As well as a good dose of awe, Chris Hadfield’s dedication to sharing his experience in space teaches us all how to follow our dreams with determination and passion.

Whatever your goal is in life, pursue it doggedly, be prepared to shoulder life’s burdens, but never give up, Hadfield says.

“Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you, and start moving your life in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight, turns you into who you are tomorrow, and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you’d be, but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in. Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.”

We could all use a little of that perspective, don’t you think?

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