On Chris Hadfield

I apologise that this has taken me so long to write up. It is not through anything other than lack of time, not inclination. The evening was wonderful, it made a lasting impact on both myself and Hubs; being one of those talks that breaks you open to seeing life, including your life in a different way.

I read a quote that …”Cmdr. Hadfield isn’t the first person to travel in space, but he is the first person to humanise it”. How he describes holding on to the ISS with one hand, looking out to our little blue planet is beautiful:

… you’re holding on with one hand, looking at the world turn beside you. It’s roaring silently with colour and texture as it pours by mesmerizingly next to you. And if you can tear your eyes away from that and you look under your arm down at the rest of everything, its unfathomable blackness, with a texture you feel like you could stick your hand into. And you are holding on with one hand, one link to the other seven billion people.

Like many people I follow him on Twitter, waved at the ISS as he whizzed over our house, the brightest light in the sky. Hubs and I talk about him and show videos of him to Peanut, not just him playing his guitar, but the experiments and messages he sent back (let’s pause for thought to how we can be hopping on one leg, or waving our phones around out a window desperately trying to get a signal, when men in space can ping pictures back to earth…).

The evening started at 9:30 and was due to run for 90 minutes, but he didn’t leave until gone 11:30, he talked freely and easily for the whole two hours. If you know your subject matter; you can wax lyrical for ages, describe your favourite film to someone who’s never seen it and you’ll know what I mean. The first part of the evening was him doing a variation on the let’s launch a spaceship part of his TEDTalk. He had more time, so he was able to go into greater detail about some of the finer and funnier points. The second part was Q&A hosted by Jennifer Byrne, Cmdr. Hadfield would sit down for so long, but then when he got excited, had to get up again and pace about.

He talked about how he was inspired by the moon landing to try to be an astronaut. Talked about how he’s faced hairpin turns on his career, how he navigated them to get to where he wanted to be. Talked about the sacrifices he and his family have made. Talked about the health choices he’s made every day since he was nine years old because ‘You don’t get big spacesuits’. Talked about the many nations who are at war, but work together to ensure the space program succeeds. Talked about in Canada, it costs 3c in $1000 to keep their space program in place and that the development of a robotic arm donated to the ISS and on the shuttle, funded from that 3c, ensured they were kept at the table. That arm is now in use in operating theatres, allowing surgery to take place inside MRI machines, for 3c in $1000! Talked about for all the importance in math(s), chemistry, engineering, physics to the world economy – yet is art that still connects people.

Astronauts rise to the pinnacle of their careers, yet as soon as they’ve landed, they are put back into the program at the base level because they’re expected to share their experiences and work their way up again. Everyone contributes, there simply isn’t room for people to coast along doing the bare minimum. Everyone in Mission Control is there, solely because they’re the best in the world at what they do, and they want to learn more.

The only thing a leader should have is competence.

This floored me. To the point, I missed what he said next. So many people I’ve worked for have been promoted out the way so they do the least damage. People in positions of power, who are incompetent, try to score points to make a point, rub people’s noses in when they make a mistake, instead of treating it as a learning experience. Because the one thing astronauts do above everything else is practice failure.

What if something goes wrong? Do you run around screaming in a panic? Cmdr. Hadfield said they spent years planning to fail, preparing to fail, thinking about what to avoid, thinking about what can they could do to practice every opportunity to iron out foibles, errors. “Let’s work the problem through”. He said too many books tell you to think about goals, but if you don’t think about the trip-hazards on the way, if you fail at the first hurdle, people give up before they’ve even really got started.

We went to the moon, not because we almost couldn’t, but because we barely could.

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