Tag Archives: Chris Hadfield

Gifts for the astronomy and eclipse buff on your list

Turkey day has come and gone, and we’ve started getting a few requests for gift ideas for astronomy enthusiasts. This year, in addition to the usual tips about books, gear, and gadgets, we’ll have a special section devoted to the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017.

Our advice doesn’t really change much from year to year. Check last year’s post Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast on your list, Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast from 2014, Picking a gift for the astronomy buff from 2013, and Choosing a gift telescope from 2012. Too busy to scrape around in the past? A few quick tips:

Visit the Seattle Astronomy Store. It’s packed with our favorite gear, books we’ve read from authors we’ve interviewed, cameras, gadgets, and accessories.

The best telescope

Smart-alecky astronomy types always say that the best telescope is the one that gets used. We tend to go with a Dobsonian reflector for outstanding bang for the telescope buck. Our personal model is the eight-inch Orion XT8 classic Dob. It’s nice on planets, super on deep-sky objects, but not so hot for photography, if that’s your thing. Dobsonians are pretty easy to set up and operate. For beginners, a good pair of astronomical binoculars can be a great tool for learning to find your way around the night sky. Get one that is at least 10×50—that’s ten times magnification and 50mm lenses. We have the Orion UltraView. Best yet, for great advice about how to choose the telescope that is right for your personal observing situation and interests, grab a copy of the classic The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide (Firefly Books, 2008) by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer. It’s a great reference, offers fantastic advice, and makes a fine gift in and of itself. The guide helped me get started, many moons ago, and I still use it often.

Your local experts

Cloud Break OpticsCloud Break Optics set up shop in Ballard last year, and has a fantastic showroom full of astronomy gear. They have an online store, but why non pop in and do some hands-on shopping and take advantage of their expertise and advice. Check their website for some great holiday deals. Support your local small business!

Eclipse info and swag

Next summer’s total solar eclipse will be the first to touch the continental U.S. since 1979. It’s not too early to start getting ready. That means that eclipse-related items will be welcome for most everyone. Michael Zeiler’s website The Great American Eclipse has an outstanding store through which you can purchase his fantastic eclipse maps and posters, as well as shirts, caps, sun-oculars, and other eclipse items. Get a 10-percent discount through Monday, November 28 using the code SAVE10. (Check out our article and podcast with Zeiler from earlier this year.) Eclipse glasses or viewers would make the perfect stocking stuffer this year; find them at Zeiler’s site or at the Orbit Oregon store.

Orbit Oregon has just published a children’s book called The Big Eclipse, written and illustrated by Nancy Coffelt. It and an accompanying activity book are aimed at kids from ages five to 11. These would be perfect for getting the younger set interested in the eclipse, and in science in general. It’s the only such resource we’ve encountered geared toward kids. There are a number of other books out there. Zeiler penned See the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017 (Great American Eclipse LLC, 2016). The book is packed with maps and information about the eclipse. We reviewed these two books earlier this month; watch for our upcoming article and podcast with Orbit Oregon’s Elaine Cuyler. In addition, Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak, has a number of eclipse books out, including Get Eclipsed: The Complete Guide to the American Eclipse (American Paper Optics, 2015) and several others shown below.

Eclipse posterAuthor, astronomer, artist, and night sky ambassador Tyler Nordgren has designed some fantastic travel posters about the eclipse, from generic nationwide posters to ones specific to some of the interesting viewing sites along the path of totality. You may have seen Nordgren’s travel posters for astronomy in National Parks and for visiting other places in the solar system. The eclipse posters are in a similar style, they’re a steal at $20 each, and they’re suitable for framing. Get them here.

Nordgren is a professor of astronomy at the University of Redlands. He was the keynote speaker at the 2014 annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society.

AstroBox rocks

AstroBoxOur friend Sorin this year started a business called AstroBox; you can read the article we wrote about it in August. AstroBox is a quarterly subscription collection of cool and unique items based on a space theme. The theme for December is New Horizons: Discovering Pluto, and the box includes a cool Pluto t-shirt, a fine art print, an inflatable Pluto globe, mission patches, the AstroBox magazine filled with mission news and activities, and other goodies. Order here and use the coupon code PLUTOSA and you will get a nine-percent discount just for being a friend of Seattle Astronomy! (The coupon is good through November 30.) Plus, in the spirit of giving, for every subscription sold AstroBox will donate $1 to help restore the Pluto Discovery Telescope at Lowell Observatory. The winter AstroBox will ship in early December, so order soon!

More books

Here are a few of our other book picks for this year:

Tyler Nordgren’s new book Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets (Basic Books, 2016) is a delightful read. It is part travelog, part primer for the eclipse, but the best part is the history of eclipses and Nordgren’s thoughts about the development of scientific thinking. We’ve just finished it; watch for our full review soon. Nordgren will speak at Town Hall Seattle on January 14, 2017. Tickets are available online now.

Scientist Amanda Hendrix and writer Charles Wohlforth have surveyed the solar system in search of the best place for a human colony away from Earth. Their conclusion: Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is the place to go if we have to leave the home planet. Titan has an atmosphere, suitable shielding from radiation, near limitless, cheap energy, and Earth-like features that the authors say makes it the best bet for colonization. They explain their choice in their book Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets (Pantheon, 2016). It explores the economics and ethics of a move off-planet as well. The pair spoke about Beyond Earth at Town Hall recently; check our recap.

Another author paid a visit to Town Hall this year; astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke about his book The Darkest Dark (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016), a volume aimed at children trying to overcome their fears. Hadfield himself was afraid off the dark as a little kid, which could have been detrimental to a career as an astronaut had he not overcome it. Hadfield is a most engaging and entertaining speaker. Our recap of Hadfield’s talk includes a link to a music video he created in support of the book.

Julian Guthrie penned How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight (Penguin Press, 2016), a book about the SpaceShipOne project that won the XPRIZE competition. The tale is an interesting one about the renegades and entrepreneurs who dreamed of getting to space without the help of the government. The book includes a preface by Richard Branson and an afterword by Stephen Hawking. It’s a thrilling tale of adventure and new space.

Happy astro-shopping!


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Astronaut Hadfield sheds light on the darkest dark

Being afraid of the dark might be considered an indicator against a career as an astronaut. But retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield knew two things as a youngster.

“I always wanted to be an astronaut,” Hadfield said during a talk last month at Town Hall Seattle. And, as a child he was deathly afraid of what might be lurking in the shadows or under the bed in the dark at night. Hadfield has written a children’s book, The Darkest Dark (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016) aimed at helping youngsters overcome their fears. It was released on September 13, the day of his event in Seattle.

Hadfield’s interest in space was fueled by his reading list as a kid. He read Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. He was a big fan of the original Star Trek series and wanted to be Buck Rogers.

“It was all fantasy,” he said. “It was all science fiction. It was reading all of the different books and wanting some day to maybe be a spaceman and to go on space adventures.”

“Opening one of those books was permission to have an imagination,” Hadfield added.

The impossible becomes real

That imagination took Hadfield on many a flight around the universe in his sturdy cardboard box spaceship. It was all kind of a lark until the summer of 1969, the year he turned 10, when he watched on television as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon.

Chris Hadfield

Astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke at Town Hall Seattle last month about his new book, The Darkest Dark, aimed at helping kids overcome their fears. Hadfield was afraid of the dark as a child. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“What I looked at was Buzz and Neil,” Hadfield recalled. “These weren’t Buck Rodgers, these weren’t James Tiberius Kirk, these weren’t actors, these weren’t fantasy. These were real people. Neil was just a guy. He and Buzz did something very brave, very dangerous, very difficult, but they did it. They succeeded.”

“On the morning of that day of July 20 it was impossible to walk on the Moon,” he noted, “and yet by bedtime Neil and Buzz had put those foot prints all around the Eagle lander.”

It was Hadfield’s a-ha moment: the impossible can really happen.

“Impossible things happen as the result of somebody having a crazy, comic-book kind of inspiration and then working extremely hard and changing who they were,” Hadfield said. Even though Canada didn’t even have a space program at the time, he devoted most of what he did in life to preparing for his dream, so some day he could “put on a (spacesuit) and go to a place where nobody had ever been before.”

Preparation beats the demons

Preparation and practice chased away Hadfield’s demons and he made it to the astronaut corps, a member of NASA’s fourteenth astronaut class, in the summer of 1992. He flew space shuttle missions in 1995 and 2001. The first thing he did after reaching orbit on that first mission was to float over and look out the window.

“It’s the darkest dark you can imagine,” Hadfield explained. “The world is separate and the rest of it goes on forever.”

“Every window on the space ship has nose prints on it because astronauts are always there just trying to see and understand the rest of the universe,” he added. “It is a magnificent, humbling experience to have the world and the universe pouring by your window and to be living in a place where magic suddenly became real.”

In 2012 and 2013 Hadfield was a member of two International Space Station missions, commander of one. He became the first Canadian to walk in space.

“It is the most incredible experience of my life to be holding on to a spaceship with one hand, to be the very first person from my country—wearing a flag that means a lot to me—to be trusted to go do this on behalf of the millions of folks who might have wanted to be up there,” Hadfield said. “To have the whole world reassuringly spinning next to me, but to look the other way, to look out into the eternity of space, to truly, absolutely see the darkest dark there is.”

Hadfield read from The Darkest Dark and took audience questions at the end of his presentation. And, as you might expect from the guy who played David Bowie tunes from space, there was a song, as Hadfield played, in its world premiere, a video and song related to the book.

Further reading

Our post about Hadfield’s 2013 visit to Seattle, in which he talked about playing guitar and other space oddities.

More books by Chris Hadfield


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Hadfield talks guitars and other space oddities

Chris Hadfield may not be quite the household name among astronauts that John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, or Buzz Aldrin are, but he tops them all in at least one category: Hadfield’s video version of the David Bowie tune “Space Oddity,” recorded on the International Space Station, has been viewed more than 19 million times on YouTube. That’s by far the most hits among his many made-from-space flicks and eclipses on-line hits on Moon-landing videos.

Hadfield made a stop in Seattle earlier this month for a talk before a large crowd at Town Hall Seattle, where he signed copies of his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything.

Though YouTube didn’t exist during the Apollo era, Hadfield said he was nonetheless inspired by the space pioneers.

“I decided to be an astronaut when I was nine; that’s when Neil and Buzz walked on the Moon,” he said. This was especially challenging for a kid from Canada. “It wasn’t just hard, it was impossible. There was no Canadian astronaut program.”

He pursued the dream anyway, learning to fly airplanes as a teen, and picking up astronaut-type skills the best he could until, finally, the opportunity presented itself.

Hadfield at Town Hall Seattle

Astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke Nov. 12 at Town Hall Seattle. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Hadfield didn’t talk much about the book during his Seattle event, mostly limiting prepared remarks to an account of what it’s like to be launched into space. He said the first nine minutes bring the majority of the risk on any mission.

“You have seven million pounds of thrust and you are going… somewhere!” he said. “It feels like something crashed into your spaceship. There’s this big pulse of energy through the whole ship and then a big rumbling vibration. You can’t hear it, but oh, you can feel it, like a piston in the small of your back that pushes harder and harder.”

He said that on his first space flight he experienced an unexpected injury by the time they reached orbit.

“About this time I noticed my face hurt; my cheeks were all cramped up and I realized that I’d been smiling so broadly,” Hadfield recalled.

“I laughed at myself to think that I didn’t know how much fun I was having. Part of me was going ‘OK check the pressures, check this, call out the distances, all the ranges, black zones, all the rest of it,’ and part of me was going ‘WHEEEEEE!'”

Hadfield said that playing guitar in space is an interesting experience because of weightlessness.

“When you fret with your hands, the whole guitar just takes off!” he said. “Eventually you learn how to stabilize it.”

In addition, he said that playing with a weightless arm throws you off.

“When you try to do something quick up and down the neck you miss,” Hadfield explained. “You have to re-learn how to fret properly.”

There’s a West Coast connection to Hadfield’s space musicianship. He has a special guitar made by Roscoe Wright of Wright Guitars in Eugene, Oregon.

“He makes this really weird guitar that is just the fret board,” Hadfield said. “The guitar pieces are actually like a coat hanger, so that it gives the shape of a guitar, it feels like a guitar against your body, but it folds up really tiny, a really clever design. I got him to cut the neck in half so it would fit into a shuttle locker. He built one special for me.”

It’s not the guitar used in the “Space Oddity” video, which is an ordinary acoustic instrument.

Hadfield also fielded questions about the past and the future of space exploration. He, like most astronauts I’ve heard speak, thinks that shutting down the space shuttle program was the right call, noting that shuttles flew for the better part of three decades.

“You probably don’t drive a 30 year old car to work every day, you sure don’t drive one to space every day,” Hadfield said.

“There’s only so much money in the NASA budget, and you can’t fly an expensive vehicle while building a new vehicle unless you get a big whack of money from somebody else, and there was no somebody else,” he explained. “I think we did it just right.”

“Everybody should celebrate the space shuttle,” he added. “It was the most capable vehicle we’ve ever built and it served us superbly. I was delighted to get a chance to fly it.”

As for the future, Hadfield feels the next logical step in humanity’s continuing drive to explore will be an international effort to return to the Moon.

“We need to learn how to go live there,” he said. “We will learn an awful lot by setting up permanent habitation on the Moon over the next–who knows? 30 years, couple generations. From there hopefully we’ll invent enough things that we can go even further.”