By Jessica Robinson, Staff Reporter
The energy in the Fraser auditorium was palpable, the excitement creating a veritable buzz, on the evening of Oct. 9. While waiting for the headlining speaker to take the stage at the Glencore Memorial Lecture Series, many audience member were pouring over pre-purchased copies of books, hoping to snag an autograph during the after-lecture meet and greet.
“Why are there so many people?” a son asks his father.
“He’s like a rockstar,” his father replies. “He’s very famous.”
The applause breaks out as soon as the first audience member spots Colonel Chris Hadfield making his way out of the side door toward his front-row seat.
Described by Dominic Giroux in his opening speech as “a true Canadian superstar—who is very down to earth,” Chris Hadfield is arguably the most popular Canadian astronaut of all time. The first Canadian to walk in space and previous commander of the International Space Station, Hadfield’s presence on stage in front of 1200 attendees (in the Fraser auditorium as well as in two overflow rooms) was both warm and inviting.
Hadfield addressed the intensity and drama of his life experiences with charisma and a quick sense of humour, all while maintaining a certain degree of respect for the work he was a part of.
“It’s an amazing day in your life,” he said, “to wake up and realize (that, by the end of the day), you’ll either be rotating around the world every 92 minutes—or you’ll be dead.”
Hadfield recounted his very first flight to space in impressive detail, describing the outfit he wore the day of the launch, right down to the Johnson and Johnson diaper specially designed with little imprints of astronauts in pink and blue. He told the audience how the technicians treated the astronauts with “an air of respect and technical confidence,” knowing that “everything is a matter of life or death.”
It was truly the delicate balance of astounding fact and well-placed comedy that made Hadfield’s speech so enrapturing. He was the first to laugh when, upon encountering difficulty with the slideshow clicker, an audience member offered the infamous line, “Houston, we have a problem.”
Painting pictures as he talked, Hadfield described the red hydraulic fuel in the ship as being like blood, making the body of the ship pulse, bringing it to life.
Hadfield took care to repeat himself when uttering what is certainly one of the most memorable lines of the night: “Impossible things happen, when they just barely can, because of a huge amount of work.” It’s what he learned watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when man first walked on the moon. In the morning on that day in 1969, walking on the moon was impossible; and by that evening, it no longer was.
Through a combination of narrative stories and authentic video footage, he went on to cover a wide range of topics: from describing what Canada looks like from space, to the way zero gravity turns water into a “floating living jellyfish in front of you,” to the taking and sharing of photographs.
After all, Hadfield only added to his popularity with the younger demographic by sharing photos taken aboard the International Space Station through Twitter and other social media—while he was still in space.
“We’re just starting to figure out what social media can mean for us, for communicating,” he said.
During the question and answer portion of the evening, Hadfield took questions from all sorts of audience members, eager adults or brave young kids, both in the auditorium and from the overflow rooms.
When a young boy asked, “What does it feel like being in space alone?”, Hadfield replied, “You don’t actually feel alone. The Earth is still nearby.”
He said that, instead, “you feel really special […] that you’re allowed to do this.”
A woman then asked, “So what (else is) on your bucket list?” Because, what exactly does an astronaut look forward to after having been to outer space?
Hadfield simply replied that he doesn’t like bucket lists, explaining that they’re like millstones of things reminding you of what you haven’t done.
“I think it’s a terrible thing to have to impose (on) yourself,” he shrugged.
Watching Hadfield interact with the kids throughout the presentation, be it in bringing one girl on stage to illustrate the effects of gravity, or in teaching another young girl fully outfitted in her own spacesuit about the way astronauts drink water in space, was undeniably heartwarming.
While answering the final question of the night, Hadfield admitted that, as can be expected, aside from variety in his food choices and the smell of fresh coffee, the hardest thing to live without in space is family, the people you love, and home.
It was Steve Paikin, Chancellor of Laurentian University, who gave the closing address before the autograph session just outside the auditorium.
“To have Chris as our tour guide in space,” Paikin said, “(was) a treat.”
In line to get the astronaut’s autograph, attendees are quick to gush about Hadfield.
“He’s the greatest Canadian astronaut, ever,” said Nikolai Wood, a student at Laurentian University.
“He inspires the young,” added second-year engineering student Justin So. “He hopefully will stimulate young people’s minds, to think more about science and innovation, so Canada can have (a) bigger impact in the future.”
Needless to say, Dominic Giroux was spot on in his opening speech, when he predicted that Hadfield would “be among the most memorable” guests to speak at Laurentian.
-Photos by Jessica Robinson