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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