An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Introduction: Mission Impossible. Before I exited the hatch, I realised that I with my equipment, my body formed a square. Square astronaut, round hole. It was tough and I had to wiggle my way through. I wasn’t destined to be an astronaut actually. This is the story of my life. When I was 9, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. The world erupted with joy. My dad was a commercial airline pilot. It was when I was that age that I knew I wanted to be an astronaut. As I was a Canadian, it was virtually impossible to get into NASA. It was hard work. Even at a young age, I knew that the decisions I made would shape my life forever. My experience on a corn farm taught me about what hard work meant. It instilled patience in me. I tried to have fun and saw the fun in my experiences. When I was 13, I joined the air cadets. At 16, I could fly powered planes. Flying and water skiing were two of my greatest passions.

The astronaut dream was probably not going to happen, but I should do things that keep me moving in the right direction, just in case – and I should be sure those things interest me, so that whatever happens, I’m happy. – Chris Hadfield

Later, I went to military school and then studied mechanical engineering. In 1981, I got married. My wife, Helene, was also very supportive of me when The Canadian Government announced their first 6 astronauts and I was one of them. She was a go-getter in life and she helped take care of the kids. The job as a fighter pilot was dangerous and my family were struggling financially back then. My wife discouraged me from being an airline pilot. I gave up my career as a fighter pilot and became a test pilot cum engineer. I got rejected by a test pilot school in France and was bitterly disappointed. Thankfully, I was admitted to the Test Pilot School in the USAF and this paved my way to NASA. Later on, we moved to Pax. I developed recovery techniques for planes etc. Later on, I completed my masters degree in aviation systems. I was named the top performer at the test pilot school. I sent my resume to the Canadian newspaper when they were recruiting pilots. Thankfully, I was shortlisted. After a few interviews, there were 50 of us left. All the candidates were well qualified. Thankfully, I was selected to be an astronaut. Now, I needed to start thinking like an astronaut.

The Trip Takes a Lifetime. The space suit I wore needs to function properly. It was the moment when I walked towards the launch pad. The suit was warm and stuffy, to say the least. It was almost lift off and I prayed that there would be no accidents. We were roaring upwards now. Getting to space took 8 minutes and 42 seconds. Everything was black outside now. On another trip, the team successfully docked a docking module onto the Atlantis. To enter Space for 10 days, you will need to spend about $20 million dollars at least. There is also a need to attend 6 months of training pre-flight. I realized that I didn’t know a lot of stuff and that I had to learn them on Earth. Our job is to make space travel easier for future members. On most days, we have to take lots of exams. I had to do ground work too. Later, I was made chief of CAPCOM. My first flight was in 1995 and my second was in 2001. I had to assemble pieces on the ISS. Every contingency needs to be planned for when you’re in space. Doing simple tasks is incredibly difficult under zero gravity. My ground preparation paid off during my spacewalk. I was stationed at the ground in Russia from 2001 to 2003. From 2006 to 2008, I was the Chief of the ISS Operations. In 2012, I was back in Space for the third time. This would be a much longer expedition. I would be there for the next 146 days. We orbited Earth 2,336 times. Space taught me how to anticipate problems before they arose. The best way to reduce stress is to sweat the small stuff. Ask yourself: ‘What’s the next time that could kill you?’ Everything must be packed neatly in space or it will float around.

Competence means keeping your head in a crisis, sticking with a task even when it seems hopeless, and improvising good solutions to tough problems when every second counts. It encompasses ingenuity, determination and being prepared for anything. – Chris Hadfield

Have an Attitude. You are forever a student as an astronaut. I love my job. There is a lot of preparation involved. The training is quite rigorous. If you see training as a chore, you will be very miserable. Many astronauts are not guaranteed a trip to space. Some programs get affected by funding issues. Some massive accident will cause space travel to be temporarily halted. Some astronauts are also too tall to fly in the Soyuz. Health problems will also disqualify you instantly. You need someone with a hard personality to survive in space for 6 months. Some people do not like the claustrophobic environment. You never hear astronauts complain about their jobs. I was excited to go to work every single day, even during the 11 years where I didn’t get to fly. I loved learning and attending classes. Try and enjoy the training. In space, maintaining the orientation is the key. If you don’t, you will head off in the wrong direction. Be ready. Work Hard. Enjoy It! Keep getting ready. Be prepared. I once rehearsed ‘Rocket Man’ and thought that I would get to sing it with Elton John. It didn’t materialize but life is like that sometimes. Attitude is the most important for success. I had to bond closely with the Russians on ISS. I had to learn Russian as well, just in case. Astronauts spend many hours in the pool training. Once, I was a deep-water pilot and had to look at rocks deep in the lake’s bed. It was very fascinating indeed.

If you’re got the time, just it to get ready. Yes, maybe you’ll learn how to do a few things you’ll never wind up actually needing to do, but that’s a much better problem to have than needing to do something and having no clue where to start. – Chris Hadfield

In life, too many variables are out of my control. There’s really just one thing I can control: my attitude during the journey, which is what keeps me feeling steady and stable, and what keeps me headed in the right direction. So I consciously monitor and correct, if necessary, because losing attitude would be far worse than not achieving my goal. – Chris Hadfield

Success is feeling good about the work you do throughout the long, unheralded journey that may or may not wind up at the launch pad. You can’t view training solely as a stepping stone to something loftier. It’s got to be an end in itself. – Chris Hadfield

A lot of our space training is like this: we learn how to do things that contribute in a very small way to a much larger mission but do absolutely nothing for our own career prospects. We spend our days studying and stimulating experiences we may never actually have. It’s all pretend, really, but we are learning. And that I think is the point: learning. – Chris Hadfield

It’s never either-or, never enjoyment versus advancement, so long as you conceive of advancement in terms of learning rather than climbing to the next rung of the professional ladder. You are getting ahead if you learn, even if you wind up staying on the same rung. – Chris Hadfield

The Power of Negative Thinking. How do you deal with fear? Many people remember the Challenger disaster. But I was never fearful. We had everything under control. Push past your fear of heights. You become more skilled with practice. Knowledge helps you to stay calm. For diving, one can attend multiple training dives before the actual one. ‘Warn, gather, work’ was how we dealt with fires in the spaceship. It turned out to be a false alarm in the end. However, we were all prepared to deal with such emergencies. We also have death simulations. How do you dispose of his corpse in space?. How should the media respond to such a death? Simulations help to identify gaps in your current knowledge. It is a wake-up call to make sure that you can deal with the emergency properly when the real thing strikes. I felt a little responsible for the Challenger incident. Later, we fixed the problem. After that, the shuttle was proven to be safe to fly in. For me, I only take risks if there is a chance of a better reward. I am not an adrenaline junkie. Preparation can help reduce the likelihood of risk events happening. Preparation is everything when the stakes are high. In space, your survival depends on your competence. You must make decisions in a split second. There is myriad of bad possibilities that can occur. A lot of self-help books tell you to stop worrying and don’t think about what can go wrong. Well, anticipating problems is one of the keys for success. Have a plan for contingencies. How would you react to a crisis? Visualize defeat and figure out how to avoid it.

In my experience, fear comes from not knowing what to expect and not feeling you have any control over what’s going to happen. When you feel helpless, you’re far more afraid than you would be if you knew the facts. If you’re not sure what to be alarmed about, everything is alarming. – Chris Hadfield

Sweat the Small Stuff. Learning to fly the basic jet on the basic jet training course wasn’t easy. Every flight was make or break. I needed to ace my training course. To be an astronaut, I had to be a fighter pilot first. To be a fighter pilot, I needed to top my course. I almost had to attend a re-flight due to my poor performance. I was that close to blowing my chances completely. Later on, I changed the way I studied in the evenings. Now, I reviewed the checklists thoroughly before flying. The key was to be familiar in the air. This intense preparation is a form of ‘cheating’. Extra advantage gives you an added edge. I analysed why I didn’t do well. You need to sweat the small stuff. Our mistakes are heavily scrutinised. It is better to figure out what the grey zone is when you’re still on Earth. De-briefing sessions were very common too. Build up collective wisdom that way. Even constructive criticism can sting you. We are expected to respond positively to criticism. Every Monday, we talk the stuff which could have killed us on the previous week. NASA has a big emphasis on education. After a space flight, the de-brief can last the whole day. In many meetings, we get grilled by the experts. You can always learn a lot from a de-brief session. NASA has a database of all astronaut errors, disasters, missteps etc. It is amazing how we overlook mistakes sometimes. Astronauts were not good at using a robotic arm. We rely on flight rules to guide us. Flight Rules prevents risk taking. The shuttle was vulnerable and one could not take any risks on it. Sweating the small stuff may improve your patience. NASA is fanatical over details. Little things matter a great deal and can determine success or failure. Our aim was not to drift away after exiting the hatch. The Universe was absolutely raw beauty in his finest form. It was the best experience of a life clinging on a spaceship and looking at Earth. I was repairing the spaceship when there were droplets of water in my eyes and I could not rub them off as I was in a spacesuit. Tears accumulate in your helmet and they don’t fall. As the tears will not disappear in your helmet, I realised that my vision was severely impaired. I signalled for help immediately. Right at once, people tried to analyse what the problem was. The suit had oxygen at least for 8 to 10 hours. I desperately wanted to get back to work. After 20 minutes of purging oxygen, I could finally see again. Later on, I proceeded with working on the arm. The problem arose because of the anti-fog spray I used to clean the visor the previous day. Apparently I did not get everything wiped clean enough.

And it’s true, you don’t need to obsess over details if you’re willing to roll the dice and accept whatever happens. But if you’re striving for excellence – whether it’s in playing the guitar or flying a jet – there’s no such thing as over-preparation. It’s your best chance of improving your odds. – Chris Hadfield

The Last People in the World. There isn’t an accidental astronaut. People who are selected are highly competitive in nature. 3500+ people applied for 9 positions. I knew only the cream of the crop were selected. I felt very small when I first met the older astronauts. Astronauts are evaluated on almost everything. I am lucky I had a supportive family. There was a year where I had to go to work everyday. Some others were picked before me and I was starting to feel anxious about myself. Some people are just more talented that you. We need to manage too much complex information. Even talent isn’t enough. You must push yourself beyond your comfort zone. If you are not technically skilled, you won’t get selected for missions. When in space, you only have that much time to do what you have to do. The training before the trip is also mostly solitary. Learn to work with the strengths and weaknesses of the others on-board. Personalities are important in a long flight. In the past, there were cases of personality clashes on board. Astronauts are highly competitive people. If you are too competitive, you risk alienating yourself from others. Figure out how to thrive in a group. You can see who are the leaders when everyone is demoralized. Good leadership means leading the way. Risk management is crucial. Don’t keep thinking about yourself only. Always ask ‘How can I help us get where we need to go?’Empathy and humor are important. Look for ways to lighten the mood when everyone is depressed. My dad always said that whining is contagious and destructive. There were non-specific goals onboard the ISS and it was really difficult. Once in a while, I had to deal with difficult astronauts. He was arrogant and confrontational. However, he was extremely competent at his job. He viewed the others as his competitors who were out to destroy him. Sometimes, your actions can affect others. Small mistakes can chip away at your team’s effectiveness. I enjoyed helping my other crew members succeed. Some people cannot stand it when they are worse off than others. However, in a team, as an astronaut, you have to try to help others succeed. Helping others helps benefit you too.

And it’s easy to do once you understand that you have a vested interest in your co-workers’ success. In a crisis, you want them to want to help you survive and succeed, too. They may be the only people in the world who can. – Chris Hadfield

If you’ve always felt like you’ve been successful, though, it’s hard not to fret when you’re being surpassed. – Chris Hadfield

Early success is a terrible teacher. You’re essentially being rewarded for a lack of preparation, so when you find yourself in a situation where you must prepare, you can’t do it. You don’t know how. – Chris Hadfield

Never ridicule a colleague, even with an offhand remark, no matter how tempting it is or how hilarious the laugh line. The more senior you are, the greater the impact your flippant comment will have. – Chris Hadfield

What’s the Next Thing That Could Kill Me? It is difficult to fly in formation. There was once when there was a bee inside my visor when I was in a jet. There was nothing I could do. The key thing is to continue straight on the flight path. Shutting your eyes isn’t an option too. Flying a jet requires incredible level of focus. In a high speed jet, you forget all of your other personal problems. The one you focus one is this ‘What’s the next thing that could kill me?’. Luck is required too. There was once when I was unconscious in the air for 16 seconds. It nearly killed me. You need to correct the situation as soon as possible. You need to know the actions that are critical for your survival. I had my vasectomy after my third kid with Helene. My good friend, Tristan, died in an air accident. We never figured out why he crashed. It might be the fact the instruments on-board weren’t working. ‘Boldface’ is a term used to describe the procedures that could save your life. Having good operational awareness is the key. His loss was a big shock. I didn’t fear flying after the episode but got more determined to solve tough problems. I tried creating new boldfaces. We put the F-18 temporarily out of control, and tried to get them back under control. Never give up on a problem. A military pilot had to clear a medical, if not you would be removed from service. I had to go for surgery to remove scar tissue and there was a scar on my belly. Thankfully, I was fit enough to fly again. For the next 20 years, my health was in tip-top condition. I was a specialist is as many modules and systems as possible. I was well versed with the modules on the ISS. Later on, an MRI scan showed that I had an intestinal obstruction. I had to undergo another operation. I recovered quickly and had to convince NASA that I fit to go into space again. A medical doctor had to certify me and provide statistics on why the incident won’t happen again. The risk of the problem recurring was 75%. In 2011, the international panel cleared me for flight. The surgeons suggested to operate on me again but I refused. The research I had done proved that there was almost zero chance of relapse. Some medical personnel suggested that I go for ultrasound. Keep looking to the future. The results turned out fine and I was elated, to say the least. I was cleared for space.

Tranquillity Base, Kazakhstan. The week before launch is the most serene for astronauts. We don’t leave things to the last minute. We are quarantined and not allowed to catch any illnesses before the flight. In space, if you are sick, the others will be affected too. Astronauts are now isolated pre-flight. It is also done for psychological reasons. The dormitory in Baiknour was very impressive. We had strict diets to follow. Later, we got to see the Soyuz. I packed a few of my personal belongings on the flight. We had to take re-fresher classes before the flight. Tom, Roman and I were the 3 assigned astronauts to go to the ISS. I managed to live for the moment and be absorbed. When I returned, my family didn’t miss me that much. Was I neglecting my family? The problem of being an astronaut was that you don’t get to control your schedule. Visitors had to comply with visiting hours. My family had to visit me in Kazakhstan. Thankfully, my family had fun when they came to visit me. There was a lot of pride and joy that my dream was finally coming true. NASA had this programme called family escorts. I did it for one of my fellow astronauts when he was in space. I made sure his family had a good time. To be an escort, there is a chance that you might have to attend a funeral should your comrade die in space. Being an escort forces you to think about your life and how it all pens out. I missed my son’s 16 birthday because of quarantine. Forward planning is very important. Do not suffer in silence. If you are going to miss some celebrations, plan ahead. You need to repay the sacrifices that others have put in because of your gruelling schedule. Your needs do not take precedence. Prioritize time for your family. Now, we were on our way to the spaceship.

How to Get Blasted (And Feel Good the Next Day) The winter in Baikonur was very brutal and harsh. We were in the suit-up facility. We looked oversized after dressing up. We waved goodbye to those who came to visit us. A ritual involved us pissing at the side of the bus. The backup crew came to greet us as well. It was difficult to get out of the suit. There were many important dignitaries who came to visit. Now, we saw that the Soyuz was vertical and ready for liftoff. Visitors could only look at the Soyuz from a mile away. The beginning of a space flight is the most risky. You only have a few seconds to react. For the Soyuz, on re-landing, a separate capsule would be supported by parachutes. It was much safer than the shuttle. The Soyuz was very cramped and uncomfortable. The entire vehicle was filled with equipment and supplies. I had to locate the checklist to perform system checks. Everything was working and we were 2 hours in our flight. Yuri started playing music for us. We had to sit still and remain calm. We were prepared for contingencies. Our different stage engines started cutting off. We were finally in space. I visualized what would happen when we reached orbital speed. It was difficult to move around in zero gravity. It was dizzying and disorientating. Have a plan and do things in small concrete steps. Later, I took anti-nausea medicine. Some people kept vomiting in the absence of zero gravity. I didn’t eat much. We were allocated 2 days to get to the ISS. We were already walking around now. Tom was very happy to be back in space. I could never bored of zero gravity. The ISS is a large capsule orbiting around Earth and it was amazing to look at from afar.

Aim to be a Zero. It was always important to stay grounded and not arrogant. Do not advertise yourself as a +1, or someone who can value-add a great deal. If you have a superiority complex, you are out immediately. Millions of dollars have been invested in us. If you have skills, but if you don’t understand the environment, you can’t value add. Being zero, or causing no harm, isn’t a bad place to be. You’re competent enough not to cause other people problems. If you are really a +1, people will be able to tell from your work. Tom was quietly competent and helpful. To be a +1, you need to do more than what is required of you. First, aim to be a zero. Ingress without causing a ripple. Start off with a neutral impact and then try to help others. Aiming to be a zero doesn’t hurt anyone. Since the shuttle was not in service, US had to work with the Russians in order to get to ISS. My initial mission was to build a dock for the shuttle to land. Thankfully, plan A worked on my previous trip. We opened the hatch using a swiss army knife. Do not show off when you’re the least experienced on-board. In 2001, the station was dead as the main computers failed. Thankfully, we used the shuttle’s communications systems. Everyone has to chip in and do their bit to help out with problems. Every small act you do contributes to the mission.

Life off Earth. The ISS is huge and is about the size of one football field with many smaller modules. It is very spacious. It took us 2.5 hours to open the hatch. After we opened the hatch, we saw Oleg, Evgeny and Kevin. We were delighted to meet them. We were captured on video, where we could speak to people on Earth. It was confusing and modules were sticking out all over the place. The 3D simulations on Earth was very accurate. The walls were made of Velcro, and you could stick stuff there. Sometimes, a small meteorite might crash into the ISS. There was a constant hum of the fans at work. We had a phone booth as a sleep station. There is no need for a pillow in space. The mission control would be monitoring things when we went to sleep. Flying seems effortless. However, zero gravity requires some getting used to. We had to swallow toothpaste. Instead of a shower, we had to wipe ourselves with a wet cloth. We had shampoo which didn’t involve any rinsing. There was no need to wash clothes and we had to keep wearing them. We didn’t sweat much and a pair of months could last for a month. Exercise was mandatory on-board. We have to work out two hours a day. We had a stationary bike and a treadmill. We had to lift weights as well. Astronauts have to make sure sweat is being towelled off immediately with a towel and not allowed to float around. We had a way of purifying water on-board. The water was actually quite pure. We put together about a 100 videos when in orbit. This would also form part of the educational out-reach. Many people taught space programs were a waste of money. The videos became hits because ‘people are inherently interested in other people’. Weightlessness is like a toy where everything seems interesting. Most of us return to Earth without looking weight. We are exposed to more radiation in space, for instance, cosmic radiation. The immune system is weaker on Earth. It is bad for muscle and bone mass development. We were exploring long term space flight, ie. To Mars. We were like guinea pigs in space. We spent a lot of effort collecting urine. On-board, we had to test a device that could analyse blood samples etc. Every morning, NASA sends us a list of things which we need to do. First, it was maintenance and cleaning, inspecting equipment, repair works etc. If you are ahead of schedule, you can admire the scenery. We also had fun playing with weightlessness or water. We had a reduced workload on weekends. There were musical instruments on board. Playing guitar under zero gravity wasn’t that easy. Music sounded the same way on Earth. All the astronauts could play guitar and we entertained ourselves. We also followed current affairs in space. Loneliness is a state of mind but I never felt lonely. I felt connected to my crew mates. Mealtimes are great opportunities to socialize. Space food is tastier than expected. Everything is a stuff of dreams. The question is whether you want to be happy.

Square Astronaut, Round Hole. When I was young, I loved national Geographic. I realized that I was never going to be a photographer as my photos were awful. When I took good photos, it was due to luck. In space, I needed to be able to take decent photos. I was point-and-shoot standard only. We keep the cameras in the Cupola. I should post inspiring photos from the ISS. I started a twitter account. Later, I used the actual sounds on board as well. My twitter feed was swamped with comments. On March 14, 2013, I would hand over command of the ISS. Later, we got to talk to famous celebrities. I also spoke to Neil Young and asked him on advice on song-writing. It is very satisfying when you can do things efficiently in space as well. I did a take on David Bowie’s space oddity. I was pleased with the video. It was Russia’s national day and the Russian crew were celebrating. Later, there were flecks of fireflies near the Station. They were small unidentified flying objects. It seemed that we had suffered some meteorite damage. We had an ammonia leak on the port side. Without it, there was overheating and we couldn’t perform some experiments. The rate of leaking was increasing too. We had to wake up early to deal with this issue. This was an EVA but Tom and Chris were selected to perform it. We had to make sure everything went well. It was my job to command them properly. They fixed the ammonia problem.

Soft Landings. We had finished our mission and it was time to head home. We were ready to undock. Our capsule drifted away. Spirits were high throughout. It was difficult to land a Shuttle. The last mile of a marathon is usually the hardest and you have to push yourself. You must always think of ‘What’s the next thing that could kill me?’ Jim couldn’t release his comm cord and his helmet won’t open. This was a problem no one anticipated. Finally it pops off when I used a screwdriver to pry it open. Thankfully the shuttle braked and we landed safely. There was a 150step procedure to shut down the Shuttle after landing. Many astronauts vomit after landing . I was exhilarated. This was 1998. This was 2013 now. The re-entry capsule has a shield to protect it. There was an episode when astronauts almost died in the Soyuz due to a module failing to detach from the re-entry capsule. The Soyuz landed in a field and lighted it on fire. Thankfully, Yuri exited and talked to a few Kazakh. It was a miracle that their crew managed to survive despite the trying odds. Chris was going to be the only American on the ISS. I spent some time on-board trying to soak in everything that had happened. We tested the pressure valves on the Soyuz. Roman was our leader on re-entry. I was 53 years old. We finally undocked from the ISS. Once we were far ahead from the ISS, we light our engines. After 2.5 hours, we set up the ship for deorbit burn. The gravity on Earth took over. The next was a 54 minute tumble to Earth. We felt the drag of air on our ship. I was drenched with sweat and the temperature was climbing. Finally, our parachutes opened and we were safe. The ground crew were expecting us and we were all in one piece. My crew members still felt good. I felt weak and had to be placed on a chair. There were many people there to receive us. Every part of my body was sore or shocked. I was later placed in a tent and was put on IV drip. The Space Oddity video had 7 million hits. Later on, we were sent back to Houston and I was allowed to shower. It was comforting to be reunited with my family. We had to perform hand-eye co-ordination tests. One thing I learnt from space were that there were more opportunities out there than time to experience them. It was a soft landing.

Climbing Down the Ladder. There was once when I realized that I flew with a snake in my cockpit. My co-pilot pinned the snake down while I tried to play the plane. Later, we opened the window and released it. I was still feeling weak after my re-entry into Earth from the ISS. You don’t expect to receive much from NASA even after your mission. Astronauts get to swap the leadership and support roles very frequently. My body took a while to adapt to gravity again. I usually felt dizzy on Earth. We may made to undergo for tests on Earth, even fitness tests. Russia had been good to me. People tend to forget things through the passage of time. I would soon be forgotten as well. I feel that I am a better steward for the environment now. You can see the natural disasters that are happening on Earth from space. I start to pick up litter from the street wherever I go. Celebrate the small victories. I find every day to be fulfilling. Retirement is when you have done your best and have served your purpose. Learn to value humility and the sense of perspective it gives you.

Still, I know that most people, including me, tend to applaud the wrong things: the showy, dramatic record-setting rather than the years of dogged preparation or the unwavering grace displayed during a string of losses. – Chris Hadfield

The whole process of becoming an astronaut helped me understand that what really matters is not the value someone else assigns to a task but how I personally feel while performing it. – Chris Hadfield



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