Hadfield’s space odyssey widens social media orbit
Thanks to the captain of the International Space Station, we earthlings are getting to know about life in space and gaining a view of our own world from a different angle
Move over, captains James T Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard and Han Solo.
The universe’s most popular space commander at the moment has to be the International Space Station ’s newly appointed Canadian colonel, Chris Hadfield, rushing past overhead as he watches the sun rise and set 16 times every 24 hours.
Thanks to Hadfield’s confident control of social media – arguably a more tricky and exasperating challenge than running a spaceship – we earthlings are getting to know about life in space and gaining a 270km-high, 28,000km-per-hour view of our own world.
We’ve certainly had some excellent tweeting , blogging, and Facebooking astronauts up there before Col Hadfield stepped – or is that floated? – into position on the orbiting station. They’ve posted images taken from space, and filled us in on activities on the ISS. I’ve enjoyed them all.
But something a bit magical happened when Col Hadfield arrived by Soyuz rocket last December. The first indication came in early January, in an exchange with the real Captain Kirk, Twitter aficionado (and fellow Canadian) William Shatner. Shatner asked him by tweet if he was currently in space, to which Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) replied, without skipping a beat: “Yes, Standard orbit, Captain. And we’re detecting signs of life on the surface.”
The message was favourited thousands of times. It got better. George Takei, the original Star Trek Lieutenant Sulu (who is a very funny presence on Facebook), posted the exchange on Facebook and then tweeted that he didn’t fancy beaming down to the planet. On cue, in came the original Mr Spock, Leonard Nimoy, who tweeted: “Live long and prosper.”
Next came tweets from Star Trek: The Next Generation ’s Wesley Crusher (actor Will Wheaton) and then pioneer astronaut Buzz Aldrin of the original 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing crew, who added: “Neil and I would have tweeted from the moon if we could have but I would prefer to tweet from Mars. Maybe by 2040.”
In my book, Twitter as a conversational medium doesn’t get more perfect than that.
No doubt the exchange helped Hadfield secure the half a million-plus followers he now has on the medium.
It was in the weeks afterwards that we really started to get a sense of Hadfield as he posted updates, videos and images to Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Tumblr. Ever wanted to know what it’s like to try and clip your nails in space? There’s a Hadfield YouTube video for that, complete with spacey music and, wait for it, the superimposed video title, “Nail Clipping in Space”.
Another has him demonstrating how to make a peanut butter sandwich in zero gravity (a tortilla is handy as crumbs don’t become a floating nuisance), and get a haircut using a vacuum tube.
A guitar player, Hadfield has performed a duet from space with Canadian band the Barenaked Ladies in a popular video; in another, he plays Moondance with the Chieftains.
Not wasting a great PR opportunity, Nasa set up a live Q&A between Hadfield and Shatner in early February, also on YouTube.
Some Irish people may have first encountered the colonel without realising it this past weekend, when he tweeted a picture of himself floating in the ISS in silly green jumper and bow tie (featured in this paper), and sang the world a version of Danny Boy on guitar. Throughout the weekend, he posted images of Ireland taken from the ISS, to the delight of many here, going by Twitter and Facebook comments.
Others in Ireland might have come across him earlier than that. Sometimes, when the ISS has passed above Ireland, he has posted pictures and tweeted in Irish. He has also done a Google+ hangout – the first for an astronaut in space – and a Reddit question-and-answer session.
According to the Guardian , the social media onslaught is thanks to Hadfield’s two sons, who wanted to help their father find a way to convey his own excitement about space and, hopefully, kindle an interest in others.
“My fundamental goal is, as best I can, to get people to see the world,” as he now does, he said in a recent streamed Q&A session from space. “To see it as one small space, one bubble of air that keeps us all alive, that we’re responsible for, and just how close we are to each other.”