Innovative Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has spoken to one of the widest audiences possible – the planet Earth – but he narrowed that focus considerably last Thursday.
Hadfield, former commander of the International Space Station and well-known for his down-to-earth space talks and Tweets, agreed to a Skype meeting with teacher Holly Kallie’s Grade 4/5 class at Salmon Arm West elementary school.
This was thanks to Kallie’s enthusiasm about space as well as the help of Salmon Arm resident Bruce Aikenhead, former aerospace engineer who was director-general of the Canadian Astronaut Program and instrumental in such projects as the Avro Arrow and the NASA space shuttle’s Canadarm.
With his characteristic affable style, Hadfield answered the first question posed to him by explaining he had brought along a helmet simulator – and popped a lampshade sitting next to him onto his head.
This brought gales of laughter from his excited audience.
The question student Emily Thomas had asked was, although she knows it wouldn’t be possible to breathe if astronauts took off their helmets, does space have a smell?
Hadfield explained that after they go outside for a space walk, astronauts return to a room where a valve is opened, letting in the air from the space station. It’s there, between the space ship and space, “when you can smell sort of the lingering smell of space.”
He said it smells like a trace of gun powder or cordite, something you might smell if you were to go to a police shooting range. Or if you were cooking on a barbecue, “maybe a wisp of something caught on the coals, a sharp, lingering smell.”
Other questions the students had prepared included: • Are you able to tell what season it is in a country from space? • While you were on the International Space Station, was it ever hit with meteorites? • What’s the most amazing thing that humans can do in space? • Was there anything in space you weren’t prepared for? • Would you ever want to go to the Earth’s lowest point, the Mariana Trench? • What do you think is your most significant contribution to Canada so far?
Hadfield said because he was on the space station for half a year, he went halfway around the sun, so was able to see all the seasons change around the world.
The space station was, indeed, hit by meteorites, he said –constantly. It has almost “an umbrella of armour” on it, however.
“The meteorites are going 30 kilometres a second. As soon as they hit the umbrella, they vaporize. It’s like a bug hitting your windshield.”
He added that the Earth gets hit by about 100 tons of meteorites every day, but most burn up in the atmosphere. He also said that’s where the world came from – planets are formed by pulling in hundreds of tons of meteorites.
Hadfield said his experience and training prior to heading into space meant there was nothing he wasn’t prepared for.
“Nothing that was a complete surprise, more like a puzzle we had to solve.”
The most amazing thing humans do in space, Hadfield said, is they’ve moved to space, they’re living there, and have done so for the past 13-and-a-half years.
“To me that’s a really big step,” he said, telling Tristan Wood who asked the question, that, he, too, has the opportunity to live on the space station. “You as a Canadian.”
Hadfield answered all the questions with kindness and support for the children, encouraging them to pursue their own dreams.
When student Dylan Bland asked if Hadfield has ever wanted to go the Mariana Trench, Earth’s lowest spot, Hadfield said he would love to go down as far as James Cameron did.
“You have to decide what you want to do, Dylan, where you want to stretch your mind and your life…”
Asked about his most significant contribution to Canada, Hadfield said he thinks it was being one of the first Canadians to fly in space, doing things that hadn’t been done before.
“Opening the door to people like you, Brayden,” he said to student Brayden Priebe who asked the question.
“I think one of the best ways to be significant is to open doors for other people… Now because you’ve done it, other people can do it more easily.”
Afterwards, the students expressed their delight with Hadfield’s visit.
“He was really funny, he was nice. I can’t believe he’d do it with a small school like us,” said Emily Thomas.
“I’m thinking about space more now,” said Rod May.
“I think it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…,” said Ethan Elsom. “We’ll remember it over and over again.”