The Dryden Observer

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Hadfield an important ambassador

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

It’s known that weightlessness performs untold ravages on the human body — bone loss, muscle atrophy, and diminished blood volumes, deteriorating eyesight. Very often when astronauts return to gravity from extended stays in freefall they need to be rolled away in wheel chairs — slowly rehabilitated back to the conditions we take for granted.

Truly, a journey outside the earth’s atmosphere can take from you nearly as much as it can give.

Of the 540 or so people on the planet who have been trained for manned spaceflight, I would argue that no single person has done more to share the incredible perspective it offers for the benefit of mankind than Canada’s own Col. Chris Hadfield.

In a rapidly stagnating online social media environment marked by increasingly vapid, meaningless content, Hadfield’s social media outreach is an unprecedented phenomenon that public relations-challenged scientific institutions should mark for further study.

In his daily blitz of photos and videos beamed down from the International Space Station, where he is currently acting as commander, Hatfield offers intimate access into the dichotomy of daily life in space. His sprawling photographic overviews of the planet send the mind reeling in their grandeur and enormity, give a sense of true eternity and the fragility of our own existence.

In recent days he has photographed the ice-bound Lake of the Woods, plumes of sediment-laden spring runoff draining into the Great Lakes, a dragon-shaped flotilla of sea ice drifting off the coast of Newfoundland, not to mention the untold geological wonders he’s revealed from the farther reaches of our planet.

When Hatfield turns the camera upon himself, as he frequently does, the content swings far in the opposite direction, conveying a sense of the oppressively claustrophobic and potentially dangerous environment in which astronauts live — a place with no ‘up’, where every surface is covered in fine instrumentation.

With a microphone floating in front of his face, Hadfield has introduced us to the indignities of life inside a tin can orbiting the earth at over 27,700 kilometres per hour. From having to swallow his toothpaste, recovering urine and wastewater into potable water, eating, sleeping, and hours of daily exercise, Hadfield also offers insights into his daily activities in scientific experimentation, engineering or robotics. It’s all done in a way that even my three year-old can appreciate.

For some people, like myself and his 230,000 other Facebook followers, Col. Chris Hadfield is just about the only thing worth going on the Internet for most days.

As social media grows increasingly into a venue for unreasonable, button-pushing echo-chamber arguments over politics, religion, gun control and other verboten dinner party topics, Hadfield is singlehandedly redeeming the online medium on the strength of his content and an amiable, easy-going nature that we like to claim as identifiably ‘Canadian’. He’s a breath of fresh air.

Late astronomer and science author Carl Sagan long argued that science’s inability to articulate its higher concepts to the public has created a widening gulf, and in many, a distrust, to which he attributes the rise of the age of conspiracy theories. He argued that science, as a way of thinking and perceiving the world, needs effective communicators — ambassadors of clear thought.

Whether he set out to become such an ambassador, Col. Chris Hadfield has become an inspiration to many in this country for what he, beyond anyone before him, has managed to show the world about itself from 400 kilometres straight up.



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