Skip to content

Seeing Chris Hadfield

Colonel Chris HadfieldAs regular readers will know, I made a career change last month, moving out of the post-secondary education sector I’ve been working in for about 20 years and into health care. I didn’t know it at the time, but the new position was going to give me the opportunity to attend the annual Ontario Hospital Association conference in Toronto. Scheduling conflicts meant I could get there only for the first day, but as luck would have it, the keynote speaker on Monday of this week was –– yes, the photo is a clue –– my favorite space man, Chris Hadfield. And thanks to some of my new colleagues, I had a second row seat, right in front of the stage.

To get the event started, the audience was treated to a large screen showing of Hadfield’s “Space Oddity” video that has been viewed more than 18 million times on YouTube. Then, for more than an hour, Hadfield talked about traveling into space and commanding the International Space Station.

He is, as you would expect, a compelling presenter, genuine and authentic, focused and straightforward, matter-of-fact. Despite the reality that he is a worldwide phenomenon… a global star… there is nothing of that in his bearing. There is no glitz or glamour, nothing fake. Scientist, military man, astronaut, family man… he is human, real, humorous, and you cannot help but think you are lucky to be here, on this planet, at the same time he is.

In the time it would take for the Station to circle the globe he took us on a journey of words, images and video –– asking us first to imagine what it would have been like to have left our homes that morning knowing we would be traveling off planet. He talked about inspiration and the importance of focusing on something bigger than ourselves. He talked about inventions and science, the Canadian contributions to the space program, about building a common understanding and taking care of your people, about visualizing disaster so you can practice what you’ll do to respond, and about what we can accomplish if we work together. And he told us about watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon when he was nine-years-old.

Chris Hadfield delivering keynote address in November 2013
Colonel Hadfield stands next to an image of his younger self in what he called his first spaceship.

Chris Hadfield decided to be an astronaut that July evening in 1969. He knew it was technically impossible –– there was no space program in Canada and NASA didn’t accept applications from non-Americans. But he also knew that walking on the moon had been impossible too, and Neil Armstrong had just done that. So he set about doing everything he thought he would need to do to be ready in case some day in the future, he was handed the keys to a space station –– cadet, Royal Military College student, fighter pilot, test pilot, engineer.

As we all know, someone did hand him the keys to a space station, and in turn, he and his son Evan (who managed the social media side of things), shared with us the world. He captivated and inspired millions. And if that wasn’t already more than we had any right to hope for, he has now given us some of the most practical advice you’ll ever hear about how conscious and methodical preparation can turn impossible into possible.

“…that conscious, methodical approach to preparation is the main reason I got to Houston,” he said in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, which was released on October 29. “I never stopped getting ready. Just in case.”

Colonel Hadfield, I think I probably speak for a great many people on the planet when I say we’re very thankful you didn’t.