‘I don’t think I was the first person to cross the Atlantic to think Ireland is beautiful, but I did it more than most’
Q&A: Former International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield
Former International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield captured the attention of the world with his use of social media. He was in Ireland over the weekend to promote his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life On Earth and spoke to The Irish Times
You spent more than five months on board the ISS. How has life been for you since you returned to Earth on May 13th?
It has been really good. There was a real hard physical adaptation at first. There are a lot of physical changes that happen to your body. It really enjoys being weightless. When you come back to Earth, it really pays the price for not having lifted a finger, literally, for five months.
Everything seems just so unfair and so heavy. Even at the time I remember remarking that you have to lift up your tongue to talk. Your tongue actually has weight. It’s like talking standing on your head.
It’s something as subtle as trying to get my cardiovascular system and blood pressure regulation right. My balance was shot. It took about two to three weeks until I felt mostly normal.
It took me three or four months before I could walk properly again. My first couple of months of running were just plodding. After about four months, I felt I could run normally again. I’m still growing bone back. I lost about eight per cent of my bone.
Has it been easy psychologically to make the adjustment to living back on Earth?
It’s been fine. I worked really hard to stay connected with family and friends and all the folks that were paying attention. It has not been bad at all.
It took about a month before I felt like I had emerged from a bit of a daze. I fell a little bit behind all the time. You felt you were being led around quite a bit.
You decided to retire after returning from the ISS. Why was that?
My wife and I have talking about it for years. When is the right time to retire? What makes sense?
The threshold we set was when we know for sure that there would never be a chance to fly in space again. That would be a good time to think about retiring.
Also her point was that if you ever had two days in a row when you are dreading going to work, that’s a good time to think about change. I never even had one day in a row as an astronaut like that. I loved the job.
But I’ve been an astronaut for 21 years which is long enough for anyone.
Do you miss being an astronaut?
I really don’t miss it. I don’t spend much time looking backwards. I’m much more interested in what is coming. There is so much opportunity and things ahead.
I’ve done some interesting things. I’ve lived at the bottom of the ocean. I was an F18 pilot intercepting Soviet bombers over the Atlantic. I’ve done other interesting things. I don’t spend much time looking back and wishing it was 30 years ago. There’s all kind of stuff I want to do.
You are probably the most famous astronaut since the Apollo missions. How has that been for you?
I’ve seen that. It’s hard to measure it because you don’t see everybody at once. I sort of meet individuals in various places, but everywhere I go, it feels like I already know some people. I feel like we’ve sort of met which is quite pleasant. It feels like I’ve already had an introduction everywhere I went. People aren’t invasive. It’s been quite pleasant.
Have you seen your children since coming back from orbit in May?
I’ve seen Kristin (who is a PhD student at Trinity College Dublin)at a wedding in Washington DC when I was there. I haven’t seen my eldest son (Kyle) at all. He’s in China. Evan (who is based in Germany) I see regularly.
What is it about Ireland when you were in orbit that you seemed to focus on so intently?
It is beautiful after crossing the Atlantic to hit landfall and see Ireland as the first place coming across. I don’t think I was the first person to cross the Atlantic to think Ireland is beautiful, but I did it more than most.
We see the International Space Station a lot in Irish skies. Did your orbit take you across Ireland all the time?
We only go about 51.6 degrees north, so that arcs almost straight across Ireland so therefore because our orbit is an arc, you see it at the start, the middle and the end of the arc. You see this part of the world much more than you would the equator. Because it is the first landfall you see after cross the Atlantic, you are looking for it.
You write in your book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life that your antecedents are from the north of England and the south of Scotland. Yet you seem to have a great cultural affinity with Ireland and especially with The Chieftains. Why is that?