- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2013

And you thought smartphone video chat was impressive.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield participated in an online chat with users of the social media website Reddit on Sunday — and did so while orbiting the Earth on the International Space Station (ISS).

The first Canadian to undertake a spacewalk and to board the Russian Mir space station, the 53-year-old Mr. Hadfield has been aboard the ISS since December and has been posting daily messages and space-shot photographs of Earth to more than 380,000 Twitter followers.

Using a laptop computer and an Internet connection made possible through a satellite relay and a terrestrial server in Houston, Texas, Mr. Hadfield answered questions from roughly 220 miles above the Earth. 

More than 2,000 questions for and comments about Mr. Hadfield were posted in Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” section, which recently has hosted chats with President Obama and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Herein, the highlights of Mr. Hadfield’s chat:

 

What [does] the sky look like outside of the atmosphere to the naked eyes?

It looks like a carpet of countless tiny perfect unblinking lights in endless velvet, with the Milky Way as a glowing area of paler texture.

Which part of the world looks the coolest from space?

Australia looks coolest — the colors and textures of the Outback are severely artistic. The most beautiful to me are the Bahamas, the vast glowing reefs of every shade of blue that exists.

Do you ever get the urge to point and shout out, “Look! I can see my house from here!”

At first, yes, but after a few days, you start to see the whole world as one place. An awesome perspective to be given.

What does space smell like? 

The vacuum of space has no smell, but when we come in from a spacewalk the airlock smells like ozone, or gunpowder. It likely comes from the gentle offgassing of the outer metal and fabric of our suits.

What’s your favorite thing to do in zero G that you can’t do on Earth?

Simply fly — to push off and glide magically to the other end of the Station. It makes me smile to myself, every time.

How hard is it to sleep out there in space?

I love sleeping weightless. No mattress, no pillow, no sore shoulder, no hot spots. Just relax every muscle in your body and drift off to sleep.

How long did it take you to learn how to maneuver in zero gravity? Are you much better at it now than when you originally came aboard the ISS?

I’m still learning! But sometimes now, I am graceful. I feel like an adapted ape swinging through the jungle canopy … until I miss a handrail and crash into the wall.

What is the scariest thing you have seen [while] in space?

I watched a large meteorite burn up between me and Australia, and to think of that hypersonic dumb lump of rock randomly hurtling into us instead sent a shiver up my back.

What is the biggest danger you face while living in space?

The biggest danger is launch — all that power and acceleration. Once we survive that, it’s just a steady threat of radiation, meteorite impacts and vehicle system failure like fire or ammonia breakthrough.

Did you notice any activity [of the meteor that exploded over the Chelyabinsk region of Russia last week] from your vantage point?

We didn’t see the meteorite that did all the damage in Russia, as we were on the other side of the Earth. But I see small ones burn up between ISS and the Earth every day.

What time zone do you live by? Do you switch off the lights at “night?”

We live on Greenwich time, UTC, same as London, England. We shut off most lights at bedtime — it feels right to do it.

How many sunrises and sunsets do you experience in an Earth day?

The ISS orbits once every 90 [minutes], so that’s 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets.

How much privacy do you and the rest of the astronauts get while aboard the ISS? It doesn’t seem like there are many places you can go to be alone other than the bathroom.

I’m typing now in my ‘Sleep Station,’ a small padded room with a door, completely private, like a bedroom without the bed, and phone booth sized.

What do you shave with? If an electric razor, how do you keep the bits of hair from floating all over the place and getting breathed in?

I shave with cream and a standard multi-blade, just wipe it on a cloth every time, works fine.

How long does it take to readjust from living in zero gravity?

About 1 day back on Earth for every day weightless. Some things come back quicker, but bones and muscles take time to truly recover.

You mentioned on Twitter that the ISS is peppered with meteors but has armor. Do you hear them hit? What about things like the solar panels? They look delicate.

Sometimes we hear pings as tiny rocks hit our spaceship, and also the creaks and snaps of expanding metal as we go in and out of sunlight. The solar panels are full of tiny holes from the micro-meteorites.

What do you think the next step for space exploration should be? Do you think sending a manned mission back to the moon to establish a moon base is feasible at this point?

As a species, we have always taken the very best of our technology and used it to take us to the furthest reaches of our knowledge — the horse, the wheel, the sailing ship, steamship, propellor, jet, rocket, Space Station. Yes, we will establish a permanent base on the Moon and beyond, but when depends on inventions not yet made.

My guess is that power generation is the primary obstacle, and fossil fuels and even solar power won’t be enough. Meanwhile, the Space Station is the crucible where space exploration technology is designed and tested. When we go further out, it will be heavily indebted to the pedigree of space hardware proven on ISS.

Do you think vacationing in space will become a reality for the average person? If so, when?

We need better engines for spaceflight to be safer and simpler, and thus cheaper. Like the difference to cross the Atlantic in a prop [versus] a jet airplane.

It seems with the scrapping of the Space Shuttle program, people’s interest in spatial exploration has been largely dwindling. What do you think NASA, other space agencies and astronauts need to do to keep people informed and interested in the science of space exploration? 

There’s always positive and negative. We lost a crew early in Apollo, and the last 2 Moon landings were canceled even though the rockets were built. Skylab decayed and fell from the sky before the Shuttle could be made ready to fly.

We’ve endured accidents, budget cycles, and many naysayers. But meanwhile we have accomplished countless acts of magnificence, from walking on the Moon to [the] Hubble [telescope] teaching us about the universe, to international cooperation, to [rover] Curiosity drilling on Mars, to permanently leaving Earth on ISS.

I’m working as hard as I can to help that all happen, and have been for 20 years. It’s hard to leave home, but we’re managing to do it as a species, regardless. Pretty amazing.

Ever listen to [the David Bowie song] “Space Oddity” while you are up there?

Yes, I love Bowie, and I’ve been singing and playing that song. Changed the words a bit, though, so Major Tom has a happier ending.

How often do you hit your head off things on a daily basis?

I hit my head about once per day :)

If you discover intelligent life, who should play you in the movie?

Someone with a good mustache.


 

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