Chris Hadfield uses social media to bring space down to earth

Canadian astronaut and new commander of the International Space Station Chris Hadfield. Photo: NASA

Earlier this week Chris Hadfield became the first Canadian astronaut to command the International Space StationThe 53-year-old father of three keeps making headlines in Canada, for what he’s accomplished – and how he’s sharing the journey. 

As recounted in the National Post, Hadfield keeps it up close and personal:

In other dispatches, he has brushed his teeth, demonstrated how to clean up a water spill, bubble by bubble, by plucking the distended orbs from mid-air, jammed with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies, put on a goofy outfit to celebrate Mardi Gras, swapped tweets with William (Captain Kirk) Shatner, dropped a puck from the heavens on Hockey Night in Canada, fixed some space station gizmo of great scientific importance while sending out a daily stream of majestic photographs of the Earth below — the Sahara, the Australian Outback, the blinding lights of Beijing — via Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.

You Tube describes this Feb 2013 conversation  as “The epic exchange between two Canadians, CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield and actor William Shatner of Star Trek fame”.

Chris Hadfield’s professional bio says he first traveled to the Russian space station Mir in 1995. After other earth-based projects, this is his second trip/third mission to the space station. (He’s doing two missions on this single trip, if that makes sense. Expedition 34/35.) He was there earlier 2001, where he also became the first Canadian to walk in space.

While not widely celebrated outside of their own country, Canadian astronauts (male and female) have gone on various missions since 1984. This Wikipedia overview of the Canadian Space Program includes a chart of Canadians who’ve been in space. And here’s the official government web page for the Canadian Space Agency.

It certainly helps the PR push that Hadfield comes across as friendly, down-to-earth and capable with a really up-beat attitude. Here he is talking about achieving goals - or having fun trying, whatever the outcome may be.

It’s Hadfield’s extensive use of social media which has captured followers and media attention like never before. With over four thousand tweets and counting, Hadfield currently has over a half million followers.

You Tube is full of videos showing Hadfield at work, including this January 29 2013 conversation where he discusses social media outreach in a “traditional media” interview. Hadfield says the new technology permits those living and working in space to “directly give people the human side of that”.

Hadfield’s images from space have grabbed public imagination. Hadfield says looking out the window is one of the best parts about the job. His photos share “fundamentally beautiful and mesmerizing” views.

Hadfield happily puts plain text to work too, as with this interactive chat on Reddit.

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

A) Someone with a good moustache…..

Q) Which part of the world looks the coolest from space?

A) Australia looks coolest – the colours and textures of the Outback are severly artistic. The most beautiful to me are the Bahamas, the vast glowing reefs of every shade of blue that exists.

Some readers are thinking “what’s Reddit“?  Well, Wikipedia says the name is a mash up of

 …”read/edit” and of “read it”, i.e., “I read it on Reddit”

It’s a generational thing. I’m (ahem!) middle-aged, so I only know about it through younger people. Hadfield says his son Evan Hadfield “is helping support my social media, and taught me how to use Reddit”.

So, this post is a three-fer: a tip of the hat to a father-son duo doing good work, an attempt to share some great photos with a wider audience and an on-going example of how to generate participatory enthusiasm with some of the newer tools in the kit.

Opinions on space programs tend to split along two sides: “Yes, it’s part of human progress, we must” and “No, it’s a waste of money when people are still starving”. I’m not sure either side’s mind can be shifted, since each perspective has merit.

Without taking sides, I’m just happy to help remind anyone who may have forgotten that earth is beautiful, special … and vulnerable. It’s a throw-back to a poster that was popular during early space flights showing out planet as a distinct, not-so-big marble, with the caption: ”Love your Mother“. Indeed.

Meanwhile, methods of getting messages across keep changing. It is interesting to see what does or does not work in that regard.

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One Response to “Chris Hadfield uses social media to bring space down to earth”

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  1. Lucy Martin says:

    I probably buried it in the post, but the thing Hadfield’s done that’s really captured public attention is tweet photos of earth from space.

    As reported in Maclean’s Magazine, people like the pictures and want to share them.

    A teacher of computer mapping at Nova Scotia Community College, Dave Maclean, has mapped photos taken by Hadfield and other ISS astronauts on a user friendly page. So, if you like, check that out and just see the places that interest you.

    Sometimes even the places you don’t think you care about reveal aspects of the plant, or of human impact on the planet, that are valuable, surprising or shocking. (By shocking I am thinking of the image of Las Vegas at night. Lit up like a giant laser beam in the middle of nothing. Draw your own conclusions.)

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