University of Calgary

Col. Chris Hadfield earns standing ovation after university presentation

UToday HomeJuly 8, 2013

By Leanne Yohemas

They came wearing space suits, sporting Col. Chris Hadfield moustaches and asking questions: What happens when you sneeze in space? How does it feel to float all the time? Will our pets be robots when we travel to Mars?

The recently retired Col. Hadfield charmed a crowd of about 650 at the University of Calgary on Saturday – and received a standing ovation – after he gave his first public presentation since leaving the International Space Station a few months ago. Hadfield, who was in orbit for five months, is the first Canadian to command the station.

Chancellor Jim Dinning hosted the event, while Mayor Naheed Nenshi led a Calgary Stampede thank you to Hadfield, asking the audience to join in on a group YAHOO!

Stunning images shot from Hadfield’s unique vantage were projected on large screens in the EEEL building as he spoke about his lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut, its inherent dangers and his space photography addiction.

“I was like a little kid with my nose pressed up against the glass getting as many pictures as I could,” said Hadfield.

“For me, it is the real crossover between science and art that is humanity in space. To be able to not only record things like floods, geologic changes and volcanic eruptions, but also to be able to just notice how inherently gorgeous our planet is.”

Hadfield was inspired by the bright blue waters surrounding the Bahamas and was surprised that pictures of things that are inherently ugly – like a bunch of tailing ponds he saw in China – became a beautiful palette of green as he floated by, snapping pictures. To shoot a photo of Calgary, which he said looked like a jewel in the night, he had to have his camera ready by the time the station was flying over Hawaii.

In a question and answer session moderated by Bob McDonald, the host of CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks, most of the burning topics were covered, thanks to Hadfield’s youngest fans.

In response to a question, Hadfield said, “If you were to go up to orbit, wouldn’t you make a list of stuff to try, like going to the bathroom upside down, stuff you couldn’t do on Earth? I tried all the body and gas experiments, none were propulsive.”

He clarified a few things: Sneezing in space is a big disappointment – it’s like throwing a penny; but if you do it in your spacesuit, it’s like a bug hitting the windshield. Floating all the time can make you ill and you lose important minerals, but it’s worth the ride. Even in space, it’s normal for humans to long for pets; however, since it’s not healthy for the animals, robots would be the best choice to take to Mars. “Touchdown” on Earth is nothing like a football touchdown – it feels like jumping off a semi travelling at high speeds. And yes, even astronauts have to wear diapers sometimes.

Hadfield admitted he pushed NASA’s limits in his attempt to make space travel more relevant to the general public. He was prolific on social media, and produced 100 videos in space, including a song he collaborated on with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies that was sung by school children across the country. With the help of his son on Earth, he also produced a cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

“If you don't show people what the space station is really for, if you don’t let people see the possibilities that it brings to us, then not only do they not know about the International Space Station, but they can’t support it because they don’t even know that it exists,” said Hadfield.

“I wish Canada could fly in space more often because we are a gutsy country and have a gutsy space agency.

2013 Arch Award winner and University of Calgary alumna Natalie Panek (BSc’07) congratulated Hadfield for inspiring youth to explore and push boundaries.

“It is a new chapter in the story of Canadian space exploration, where a very passionate group of youth want to follow in your footsteps, defining the future of exploration and reshaping the face of space,” said Panek, who currently works at MDA Space Missions (of Canadarm legacy) as a mission systems and operations engineer.

The Greatest Outdoor Show ABOVE Earth was originally slated to be held at the Calgary Stampede, but was moved to the university due to flooding on the grounds. The university partnered with the Calgary Stampede and TELUS Spark, with the support of media sponsors CBC and the Calgary Herald, to present the event. The event also showcased the University of Calgary’s leadership in space study and research, and premiered a new video that explains why we are “the place to study space.”

Read more about why the University of Calgary is the place to study space. Watch CBC's webcast of Hadfield's presentation.