Out of this world

Susan Flanagan
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Some fascinating facts from Chris Hadfield’s chronicle of life on the International Space Station

“The International Space Station. It’s every science fiction book come true, every little kid’s dream realized.”
— Chris Hatfield, “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”

Did you know that Baikonur is a small town in Kazakstan rented by the Russians for their space program?

Chris Hadfield speaks live from the International Space Station Feb. 7, 2013 with Canadian actor  William Shatner, famed for his role as Captain Kirk. — Photo by The Canadian Press

And did you know that shortly before every Soyuz rocket ship lifts off from Baikonur, astronauts make a pit stop, unzip their space suits and pee on the right rear tire of the vehicle transporting them to the launch tower, just like Yuri Gagarin did on April 12, 1961. (Note: female astronauts bring along a bottle of their pee so they don’t have to disrobe.)

And did you know the International Space Station (ISS) weighs a million pounds and is the size of a football field?

You’ll find out these tidbits and more when you read Chris Hadfield’s autobiography.

I never really took an interest in space travel before Hadfield became the first Canadian commander and videos of him illustrating everyday life on the ISS turned up everywhere.

I, along with countless school children, watched Hadfield wash his face in space. I watched him clip his nails and make a peanut butter and jam tortilla. I watched him perform a ceremonial puck drop in space for a Toronto Maple Leafs game.

But what really got me going was Hadfield’s remake of David Bowie’s 1969 song “Space Oddity.”

Hadfield’s zero-gravity music video was a game changer. Within hours of its release, it had seven million hits. It now has over 21 million. Once you see it, you’ll understand why. I like it better than Bowie’s own version.

“Space Oddity” is not something Hadfield came up with on his own. It is the brainchild of his son, Evan, a social media guru. Evan is the one who manages his father’s social media presence.

On Twitter, Hadfield’s most famous tweet is to Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. “Standard Orbit, Captain. And we're detecting signs of life on the surface,” he tweeted. On Reddit’s AMA, or Ask me Anything, Evan set it up so that thousands of users could ask his father everything from “What time zone are you on while in space?” (Greenwich Mean Time) to “What does launch feel like?”

Launch is like being “shaken in the jaws of a gigantic dog,” posted Hadfield. “The vehicle shakes and vibrates, and you are pinned hard down into your seat by the acceleration. As one set of engines finishes and the next starts, you are thrown forward and then shoved back. The weight of over four Gs for many minutes is oppressive, like an enormous fat person lying on you, until suddenly, after nine minutes, the engine shut off and you are instantly weightless … Like a gorilla was squishing you and then threw you off a cliff.”

Thanks to Evan, by the time Hadfield got back to Earth he was a veritable superstar. He was everywhere. In the Telegram. On Facebook. YouTube, Tumblr, SoundCloud. Even on the cover of Maclean’s magazine. The Oct. 14, 2013 cover features Hadfield sporting a lightning bolt on his face like David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” album.

So, as soon as I heard about Hadfield’s autobiography, I knew I wanted to read it. And lo and behold, Christmas morning, a copy of “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” was waiting for me under the tree. (Thank you, No. 2.)

When I first picked up Hadfield’s book, it opened to a picture of the Avalon Peninsula from space. Of the thousands of images Hadfield could have chosen to illustrate his book, he chose this one. Maybe it’s because his brother lives just outside St. John’s.

I started the book in December and only finished it this week, not because I’m a slow reader but because Hadfield’s is the type of book you read in increments so you can absorb it all. Here are some of the things that I found most interesting.

Hygiene: “The approach to hygiene on Soyuz is about what you’d expect on a camping trip,” writes Hadfield on p. 174, after explaining the first thing they do once they get out of their spacesuit or Sokhol is take off their diapers (they have to travel the entire way from Earth to the space station without the ability to move, let alone go to the bathroom) and long underwear. Although they’d like to stay in them, their bosses wouldn’t be too pleased if they greeted the people back home dressed in Russian long johns. (I imagined the ISS to be as sanitary as an operating room.)

Food: “There’s a lot of sticky stuff like oatmeal, pudding and cooked spinach, because it clumps and is therefore easier to trap on a spoon and get into our mouths without having to chase it all over the place. We had fresh fruit and vegetables only once a month, when a resupply vehicle or another Soyuz arrived. Once, we got a fresh crunchy green apple and an orange apiece.” (Note: Sounds like Christmas on Bell’s Turn.)

Work-outs: While in space, Hadfield worked out for two hours a day so his muscles didn’t go completely to mush.

“We … have to be careful about perspiration. When there’s no force pulling sweat downward, it just accumulates on your body like a slowly expanding liquid shield. If you turn your head quickly, that huge wet glob of sweat might dislodge, sail across the module and smack an unsuspecting crewmate in the face. Proper etiquette on the ISS is to have a towel tucked into your clothes or floating beside you while you work out, to soak up the sweat. Later, you hang the towel on a clip so the moisture is absorbed back into the air and, along with urine, can be recycled as water … drinking water.”

Sleep: “(A) dormant astronaut is an interesting sight, with both arms floating in front Frankenstein style, hair fanned out like a mane and a facial expression of utter contentment.” The sleep stations are “white, padded, totally private container about the size of a phone booth, complete with a door and a sleeping bag tethered to one wall. …”

Zero gravity: “(T)he walls are almost completely covered with Velcro. In space, if you don’t hang on to them, things like spoons, pencils, scissors and test tubes simply drift away, only to turn up a week later, clinging to the filter covering an air intake duct. … We’ve all wiped jam off the walls (it has a way of floating off your toast and splattering everywhere).”

U.S.–Russia co-operation: “When the USSR dissolved in 1991, its space program was in danger of dissolving, too, as government funding evaporated. The U.S. didn’t want Russian military technology being sold off to or shared with politically unstable countries, so NASA did what it could to shore up Roscosmos, its Russian counterpart, by providing funding for co-operative ventures such as regular visits to Mir. … Now that the Shuttle is not in service, we couldn’t get up to the ISS without the Russians.”

Challenges of family life: “The reality of an astronaut’s life is you travel 70 per cent of the time and you don’t have much say over your own schedule — so when you do have leeway, you have to make choices that clearly communicate gratitude to your family and a desire to see them, on their terms, every once in a while.”

Hadfield admits he was mostly an absentee father to his wife and three children. A colleague summed it up by saying, “Let’s face it — our dreams become their nightmare.”

“The fact that your Dad is an astronaut trumps everything else people see when they look at you,” says Hadfield’s daughter Kristin.

After finishing the book, I can say I think a lot of Chris Hadfield. He doesn’t candy-coat things like how sick and weak he was when he came back to Earth last fall. He admits his mistakes and shares them with others so they can learn. And he seems to treat everyone as an equal.

Susan Flanagan was thrilled to learn

Hadfield chose Great Big Sea’s “It’s the End of the World” to listen to as he prepared for lift-off in the Russian Soyuz rocket ship that would take him to the ISS. She will take his advice and never leave Earth

without a Swiss Army knife. Susan can be reached at susan@48degrees.ca.

1975 Allan Cup feedback

Sandy Gibbons, 1975 Caps captain, played left wing with centre Randy Pearcey and right winger John McCallum, leading scorers for the team that series. Gibbons writes: “The (1975 St. John’s) Caps was a team that was developed by Bob Badcock in 1972 following the retirement of most of 1971’s team. St. John's Caps previous to 1972 was a fairly non-physical team that … in most cases lost on the road … beaten and battered by their opponents. Badcock remembered those times and so he built a youthful, physically fit, fast skating aggressive team that were not afraid to throw the puck into the corners and use their physical style in winning on the road and in championships. The Broad Street Bullies, Philadelphia Flyers, were at the top of the heap in the NHL during that time, and Badcock created the youthful Caps in the NAHA to be the St. John's KIDDIE  CORP who fought their way to provincial championships.

“The core of the team, having won the Provincial Herder that season for the third straight year … wanted a shot at winning the  Allan Cup. The coaches strengthened its team with skilled players from Memorial University, including Jack Gibson, coach of MUN and former professional hockey player, Randy Pearcey, Ed Kent (Wabush) and Erik Seaward. The team, training on and off the ice, was ready to challenge for the Allan Cup. Barrie also added strength to their team with  two stars from the University of Toronto Blues, CIAU champions: forward Kent Runtke, who led their team in scoring during the series, and star goalie Gerry Raycroft.

“One of the cheerleaders … was Howie Meeker, sports commentator with CJON TV who had coached the previous non-physical Caps and coined the term Kiddie Corp.

“The Barrie Flyers had learned about the Kiddie Corp from the Orillia Terriers who had lost to Barrie that year in the Ontario league. The Terriers played a couple of exhibition games against the Caps prior to the epic series and brought back to Ontario the story of (these) feisty youthful brawling Newfie champions.”

John Browne writes: “Great job on Allan Cup series story between Barrie and St. John's. Some might think it's too unbelievable to be true but it was. I was at the games while working for The Daily News.”

Krista Burke writes: “The goalie on the left hand side of the picture is actually Fred Burke.” (Note: Fred Burke is Krista’s father and son of Gerry Burke, the lady who noticed that Marilou Stamp had been covered by the snow blower in the Feb. 18 article “Marilou and The Big Snow.”)

Organizations: ISS, Toronto Maple Leafs, Starship Enterprise KIDDIE CORP NASA Great Big Sea Swiss Army Broad Street Bullies Philadelphia Flyers NHL University of Toronto Blues Daily News

Geographic location: St. John's, Barrie, U.S. Ontario

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