Ground control to Cmdr Chris

Chris Hadfield, astronaut and lover of things Irish, gives an interview from his home on the International Space Station

To boldly go: Kristin Hadfield at Croke Park with a picture of her father, the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield

To boldly go: Kristin Hadfield at Croke Park with a picture of her father, the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield

 

Few astronauts have done more to involve the public in their work than the current commander of the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield. He joined the station on December 21st last year and became its commander a month ago today.

Hadfield is now well known as a prolific user of social media; he has more than 600,000 Twitter followers. He has photographed Earth, played music, shown how to make a peanut butter and honey sandwich in zero gravity, and answered numerous questions from the curious 360km below – all while commanding a 430-tonne spacecraft travelling at 28,000km/h.

He has also taken a keen interest in Ireland. His 26-year-old daughter, Kristin, is a PhD psychology student at Trinity College Dublin. Hadfield first came to widespread attention in Ireland in February, when he tweeted: “Tá Éire fíorálainn! Land of green hills and dark beer. With Dublin glowing in the Irish night.”

How did he get it grammatically correct? “Unfortunately, I have no Gaelic to speak of, but carefully chose my words on Twitter (with help) to be respectful of the Irish language and people. I learned to speak Russian to be able to fly the Soyuz spaceship, but there hasn’t been a driving need to learn good Gaelic in space – yet!” He enlisted the help of his daughter and his son Evan to get the right translation.

“My dad is never shy about asking for help in order to avoid making mistakes, which is probably what makes him such a good commander,” says Kristin. “He definitely wouldn’t want to mess up when trying to write the first Irish in space.”

Though the family, who grew up in Canada, have no Irish roots, Hadfield explains that “Ireland has always interested me. It’s the source of so much distinct culture that is prevalent worldwide, and especially so in eastern Canada. I have loved and played and sung Irish music my whole life. Perhaps it started with my great-grandfather; he had a good voice, and in church when he didn’t like the hymn choice he would sing Danny Boy , much to the preacher’s dismay.”

Hadfield himself has played in numerous bands, including one in Houston, called Max-Q, whose members are all astronauts. In February he duetted with The Chieftains – he in space, they in Houston – on Van Morrison’s Moondance .

Kristin Hadfield came to Ireland two and a half years ago, after a family friend recommended Trinity. Her father visited her here in 2011. They keep in contact by email and by phone. “I was in Donegal for a friend’s 30th last weekend,” says Kristin, “and my dad tried to call to wish him a happy birthday as well, but I missed the call. You feel particularly guilty for missing a call from your parent when they are calling from space.”

Cmdr Hadfield is due back on terra firma next month. “I am hoping that he’ll come visit me in Ireland at some point this summer,” says Kristin, “but we’ll have to see how things go once he gets back to Earth.”