October 28, 2013 5:37 pm
Updated: October 29, 2013 8:21 am

Chris Hadfield on life after space, fame and his fear of heights


Above: In the first part of a feature interview with Dawna Friesen, Chris Hadfield discusses all the skills he had to acquire to become an astronaut and having his dream as a 9-year-old boy of becoming an astronaut realized.

TORONTO – Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is not the “superhero” many people see him as, he says, despite his recently-found fame.

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“I don’t want to be treated like I came from another planet or something or was somehow born with some weird birthright or super power,” said Hadfield. “I don’t view myself that way. I am a normal guy, picking up the crap from the dog and scraping the BBQ and having a beer and fixing the shed out back.”

In mid-March, Hadfield took command of the International Space Station (ISS). Through colourful and detailed images, live chats and video, Hadfield provided a greater level of intimacy with an astronaut than the world had ever seen.

Hadfield again downplays his role: “If you give a person enough photographs and a tripod anybody can take good pictures,” he said. “I took 45,000 pictures; some of them better have turned out.”

In an interview on top of the CN Tower, Global National’s Dawna Friesen sat down with Hadfield to chat about his new book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. The pair discussed Hadfield’s fear of heights, his wife’s contribution to his success and why the deaths of those on Space Shuttle Columbia continue to haunt him.

On what’s next

Since his return to Earth, Hadfield says it bugs him when people say that the rest of his life is going to be “downhill from here.”

“There’s always constantly interesting things to do, and who knows, maybe I will be a good sculptor,” he said.  “I haven’t decided what I am going to do next, but I am not going to quit just because I did something interesting.”

On July 3, Hadfield announced he would retire from the Canadian Space Agency. Earlier this month, the University of Waterloo announced Hadfield would join the faculty as a professor of aviation.

Part 2: Chris Hadfield, the former astronaut discusses how the “power of negative thinking” helped in his preparation for space, if he ever felt panicked in space, his thirst for knowledge, and how the experiences in space helped him live a better life on earth.

On his fear of heights

As a pilot and astronaut, Hadfield has learned not to be paralyzed by his fear of heights.

“You should have a fear of some things,” said Hadfield. “That doesn’t mean it incapacitates you from your ability to figure out a way to deal with it.”

While he seemed to be having fun in space, Hadfield said he is not a thrill-seeking type. “Just taking risks for risks sake that doesn’t do it for me,” he said. “I’m willing to take risks that I think are worth it and I’ve worked so hard to make sure that I survive.”

WATCH: Journey to Chris Hadfield’s landing site in Kazakhstan

On the deaths of his colleagues onboard Space Shuttle Columbia

On Feb. 1, 2003, following a 16-day mission, Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. All seven crew members were killed, including the shuttle’s commander, Rick Husband.

“It was devastating,” Hadfield told Friesen. “I knew Rick well. It felt like the air had gone out of everything.”

An investigation by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board found that a piece of insulating foam from the external fuel tank peeled off during Columbia’s launch and struck the leading edge on one of the shuttle’s wings, creating a hole.

Hadfield said he felt partially responsible for the crew’s death as he watched video of the foam coming off and hitting the wing.

“I could have been the guy at NASA who stood up and said, ‘I am not going to let you re-enter that space shuttle back into the atmosphere until Rick or someone has done a space walk to go see if we have a hole in the wing or not,’” said Hadfield. “I was NASA’s director in Russia at the time. I had enough authority to make that happen and I did not.”

Hadfield said that it’s a decision that still haunts him, but he has learned to not allow it to “paralyze him.”

“… If it had been me in that shuttle and Rick had made those decisions I would not want Rick to go running off for the woods with his hands over his head saying I quit. That’s not going to help,” he said. “So I did what makes sense to all of us in that business. That’s that we have accepted that there is risk and that we try and make the best decisions we can.”

Part 3: Chris Hadfield discusses the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy and its impact on his life and career, saying goodbyes to family before going into space, his wife’s support, being courted by political parties, being treated like a superhero, his life back in Canada, and if he’s had any regrets.

On his recent move back to Canada

The Sarnia, Ont. native recently moved back to Canada with his wife. After 26 years away, life back in Canada has been an adjustment for the astronaut.

“We’ve been away a long time and it’s so nice to be back,” said Hadfield.I’m still in the process of getting my hospitalization card and driver’s license and buying a house and I have to get my car licensed in Ontario. I’m just like an immigrant just trying to get sorted out inside this country right now.”

Hadfield credits much of his success to his family; especially his wife Helene. “I think the real key is she always made joint decisions to allow me to do what was important to me and I did the same thing.”

This story was compiled for Globalnews.ca based on a interview conducted by Dawna Friesen.  You can watch Dawna’s interview with Chris Hadfield Monday, Oct. 28 on Global National at  5.30 PT/MT/CT and 6.30 ET/AT.

Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth can be purchased here.

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