Science ruled the day, but music had its moment as more than 500 senior students of St. Michaels University School enjoyed a 30-minute Skype session with retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield on Monday.
Hadfield came to national fame when he used social media to document and connect with Canadians during his six-month term on the International Space Station from December 2012 to May 2013.
He completed the term as Commander of the Space Station.
“It was crazy to be able to talk to him face to face, having already seen so much of him in video,” said Grade 11 student Sarah Jones, one of six students to ask Hadfield questions.
“He’s a pretty important guy, it was intimidating so it was nice to be third to ask him questions and hear him talk to us for a couple of minutes first.”
Jones asked a series of music questions, knowing Hadfield’s musical pedigree goes beyond the 2013 Youtube video of himself playing an acoustic version David Bowie’s Space Oddity. The video has 25 million views.
Among his responses, Hadfield extolled the developmental importance of learning music at a young age. He also talked about the challenges of playing music in space.
“It’s not what you think, the guitar floats, it takes some getting used to, it’s almost like standing on your head and trying to play, but once you relearn it’s fine,” Hadfield told the class.
The inspiration of seeing Earth from orbit was a constant theme in Hadfield’s answers, including music writing.
His biggest challenge was finding time to write and record the vocal and guitar portions of his upcoming album while on the Space Station.
“Not a lot of down time for an astronaut in space, go figure,” he said.
“Every few days I’d get an hour, and that was it, I’d record a song using GarageBand on my iPhone.”
Hadfield also has plans to perform with the Vancouver Symphony next year.
Unbeknownst to him, Hadfield’s presence was omnipresent as he loomed over the SMUS assembly, projected onto a 20-foot screen high above the room.
In actuality, Hadfield saw only the face of the student asking him questions, as the laptop camera sat in the middle of the SMUS gymnasium.
Ironically, while Hadfield answered questions about the evolution of science and technology, and their effect on the future of humanity, he appeared to be sitting in a 1970s-era living room with faux-wood paneling.
Turns out it was his parents’ house in Ontario.
“It’s sort of surreal to see him like that, no spacesuit, just a regular guy in his parents’ house, it’s inspiring,” said Grade 10 student Lucas Simpson.
Simpson threw science questions at Hadfield, wondering how the astronaut saw the impact of the last 200 years of science and technology innovation on humans.
“I thought about the negative implications of human civilizations, and I kind of made that up on the spot because I thought he might say the technology innovations of the past 200 years have been a misguided path, but he didn’t,” Simpson said.
While Hadfield said it isn’t sustainable, he pointed to the evolution of humanity through science.
“We need to generate enough electricity to make the world sustainable, it’s of enormous benefit for our species, and we need democratization of intellect,” Hadfield said.
“It’s important to have a longer-term view. Coming back from space, having gone around Earth 100 times and seeing it’s resiliency, I’m optimistic about humanity on Earth.”