During his third and last spaceflight in 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield became a huge celebrity due to his frequent use of social media to reveal fascinating facets of space exploration, showcase science experiments, and display his musical talents. Most notably, his stunning cover of “Space Oddity” became a massive hit on YouTube and even earned kudos from David Bowie. Even before becoming a great social media follow, Hadfield had an incredible resume with extensive experience in space exploration and as a fighter pilot. From his humble beginnings growing up on a farm in rural Ontario to reaching limits of our universe only a select few have traversed, here are some facts of the incredible Chris Hadfield.
1. A Stargazer is Born
Chris Austin Hadfield was born on August 29, 1959, in Sarnia, Ontario to parents Roger and Eleanor. Hadfield was raised on his family’s corn farm near Milton, Ontario.
2. A Family Man
Hadfield is married to his high school sweetheart Helene. They wed in a ceremony in Kitchener, Ontario in 1981. The couple are parents to three adult children—Kyle, Kristin, and Evan.
3. Chris, Your Trusty Ski Instructor
Long before demonstrating science experiments from outer space for a worldwide audience, Hadfield was teaching proper form and technique on the slopes as a ski instructor at Glen Eden Ski Area in his hometown of Milton.
4. Witnessing History
Like millions of other kids around the world, a young Hadfield spent July 20, 1969, witnessing the Apollo 11 lunar landing, which saw humans set foot on the surface of the moon for the very first time. It was a transformational moment for Hadfield, as he explained to the Globe and Mail, “…I resolved that night, July 20, 1969, to be an astronaut when I grew up—you know, me and 10 million other people. That looks like something really interesting to do with your life.”
5. A Fan of the Blue and White
Being from Southern Ontario, it’s no surprise that Hadfield is a huge fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He showed his affection for his favorite hockey team by donning a Leafs t-shirt during his re-entry to Earth in 2013, instead of the regulation NASA undershirt. His 2013 re-entry also coincided with the infamous Leafs-Bruins Game 7, where Toronto surrendered a 4-1 lead to not only lose the game, but also the series, and be knocked out of the playoffs.
Hadfield learned of the terrible outcome from his wife from his first phone call back on Earth.
6. Singing the National Anthem
On January 8, 2014, Hadfield was able to combine his passion for music and hockey by singing “O Canada” before the start of a game between heated rivals Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.
7. An Early Start With Aircraft
Under the supervision of his dad, Hadfield first piloted an aircraft at the age of three. His interest in flying led him to join the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. As an air cadet, he won both a glider pilot and powered pilot scholarship.
8. Joining the Military
After graduating from Milton District High School as an Ontario Scholar in 1978, Hadfield enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces. He spent time at Royal Roads Military College and then Royal Military College, where he graduated from in 1982 with a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
9. Fighter Pilot Phase
While in military college, Hadfield began his flight training at CFB Portage la Prairie. He would continue training as a fighter pilot and gaining familiarity with aircraft such as the CF-116 and the CF-18. He would go onto fly missions for NORAD and became the first CF-18 pilot to intercept a Soviet fighter jet over the Canadian Arctic.
10. Moving Down South
In the late 1980s, Chris Hadfield continued his fighter pilot training in the United States. He trained with both the Air Force and Navy, and he tested a wide variety of aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base and Patuxent River Naval Air Station. This time in the United States also led him to work with NASA for the first time.
With NASA, he conducted research work and was the test pilot for the new National Aerospace Plane’s external burning hydrogen propulsion engine.
11. Still Hitting the Books
In between his work for the Air Force, the Navy, and NASA, Hadfield found the time to complete his Master’s degree in aviation systems at the University of Tennessee Space Institute. He graduated in 1992 and his thesis examined the high-angle aerodynamics of the F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet.
12. A Golden Ticket to Space
From a field of over 5,000 candidates, Hadfield was selected as one of Canada’s four new astronauts in 1992. The other selected astronauts included Michael McKay, Dafydd Williams, and Julie Payette. While McKay dropped out of the astronaut pool due to medical reasons, Williams, Payette, and of course, Hadfield, would all go into space.
13. The Next Frontier?
In a 2011 Reddit AMA, Hadfield shared that he would be honored if presented with the opportunity for a one-way mission to Mars. Hadfield later stressed that while missions to Mars are possible with available current technology, there would be a low survival rate for the astronauts due to the length of the mission and exposure to cosmic radiation outside of Earth’s atmosphere.
14. Voice of Mission Control
For 25 Space Shuttle missions, Hadfield served as the chief voice for mission control, providing support and assistance to astronauts in orbit.
15. Moving Back Home
After his return from his third spaceflight in 2013, Hadfield announced that he would be retiring as an astronaut. After primarily living in the United States for the past two decades, Hadfield made good on a promise with his wife and officially moved back to Canada.
16. First Time in Space
Hadfield first went to space in 1995 as the Mission Specialist 1 on STS-74. He traveled on the Space Shuttle Atlantis, carrying over 1,000 kg of food, water, and supplies to the Space Station Mir. Hadfield became the first Canadian to operate Canadarm, the Canadian-built robotic instrument, and he was also the only Canadian to board Mir.
Hadfield’s second space flight occurred in 2001. He was the Mission Specialist 1 on STS-100, traveling aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station. His mission delivered the Canadarm2. This spaceflight was notable as Hadfield performed two spacewalks, becoming the first Canadian to float freely in outer space.
18. A Memorable Third and Last Journey into Space
Hadfield’s third and last spaceflight started in December 2012 and culminated in May 2013. Hadfield traveled aboard a Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station. The nearly six-month stay in space made Hadfield an international celebrity, as photographed moments from the mission were frequently shared on social media and videos were regularly recorded and uploaded to YouTube.
19. Using Social Media Savvy
Hadfield became famous for his entertaining and informative behind-the-scenes videos on how astronauts cope with living in the International Space Station. Some popular videos he posted aboard the ISS include a shaving in space tutorial, a tour of the onboard kitchen, and a demonstration of surface tension in a gravity-less environment using a wet washcloth.
20. The Canadian Commander
For the last two months of his third spaceflight, Hadfield served as the Commander of the International Space Station. He is the first and so-far only Canadian to hold this distinguished post.
21. Hosting a Television Show
In 2017, Hadfield was the host of the BBC television series Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes? The reality-competition series saw 12 contestants compete in a series of training tests, similar to ones undertaken by real astronauts. The winner, as chosen by a panel headed by Hadfield, would be recommended as a candidate to become a part of a prospective astronaut-candidate pool.
22. Professor Hadfield
In 2013, it was announced that Hadfield would join the University of Waterloo in Ontario as a professor. Hadfield would serve as an instructor and advisor for the aviation programs administered by the school’s Faculties Environment and Sciences and would also assist research efforts into the health effects on astronauts as part of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences.
Who wouldn’t want such a charming and knowledgeable guy as a prof?
23. Learn With Hadfield
Hadfield joined the likes of other luminaries such as director Martin Scorsese and chef Thomas Keller, by hosting a series of informational videos on the space exploration for the popular online education platform MasterClass.
24. A Budding Musician
Chris Hadfield is a huge music fan and spent a lot of his free time aboard the International Space Station on his third mission playing a small Larrivée Parlor guitar. During that time, he recorded a bunch of songs while aboard the ISS and they were later compiled and released in an album entitled Space Sessions: Songs from a Tin Can.
When released in 2015 by Warner Music Canada, it peaked at number 10 on the Canadian album charts.
25. His Life’s Story
In 2013, Chris Hadfield released his autobiography, fittingly titled An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything. The book not only recounted his life’s work as an astronaut, it also included interesting tidbits from his three spaceflights.
The book was a New York Times bestseller and a major hit in his native Canada.
26. Hadfield the Shutterbug
In 2014, Hadfield released his second book You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes: Photographs from the International Space Station. The book showcased the stunning photographs Hadfield took of Earth while aboard the ISS. The book contains unique vantage points of every continent except Antarctica.
27. Ground Control to Major Chris
Hadfield’s celebrity status was truly cemented when he recorded and uploaded a video of himself covering David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity.” Hadfield performed the song while floating inside the International Space Station. The arresting rendition of the space-themed song became a huge viral sensation and as of 2019, has over 43 million views on YouTube and is considered to be the first music video ever to be recorded in outer space.
Hadfield’s cover of “Space Oddity” even got the seal of approval from Bowie himself, who remarked that it was “probably the most poignant version of the song ever created.”
28. Many Honors
For his acclaimed career as an astronaut, Hadfield has been bestowed many accolades and honors. He was named to the Order of Ontario in 1996 and was named to the Order of Canada in 2014. He received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. He is also the only Canadian to receive both the military and civilian Meritorious Service Cross.
29. A Frequent Namesake
In 1997, the airport in Hadfield’s birth city of Sarnia, Ontario was officially renamed as Sarnia Chris Hadfield Airport. He is also the namesake of two public schools, one in his hometown of Milton and the other in Bradford, Ontario, not to mention a NASA rocket factory in Louisiana. Asteroid 14143 Hadfield was also named after him.
The 820 Milton Blue Thunder Squadron where a young Hadfield served as an air cadet was renamed in 2005 to 820 Chris Hadfield Squadron.
30. Unveiling a New Banknote
While aboard the International Space Station in 2013, Hadfield helped unveil a new Canadian $5 polymer banknote. The new banknote featured Canadian space devices Dextre and Canadarm2, which Hadfield accompanied into space and install back in 2001.
31. Piloting an Interesting Vessel
Hadfield is equipped to pilot a one-man submarine called DeepWorker. He used the device in a 2010 underwater training exercise in Pavilion Lake, British Columbia. The vessel helps researchers study methods to collect samples off the surfaces of the Moon, asteroids, and Mars.
32. A Simple Tool for An Otherworldly Task
On his first spaceflight in 1995, Hadfield and his true encountered some difficulties properly docking with the Mir space station. It seemed that there was an obstruction caused by over-sealing the module. Hadfield luckily had a Swiss Army knife with him and was able to cut the obstruction and properly dock with Mir.
33. A Grim Rehearsal
When training for space exploration, one must undergo a series of contingency simulation. Perhaps the strangest one endured by Chris Hadfield was rehearsing his own demise. In the simulation, Hadfield pretends to be a lifeless corpse, while the other astronauts prepare his body and discuss how to notify next of kin and the media.
Hadfield wasn’t too bothered by the exercise and even found it to be “weirdly uplifting.”
34. Losing Sight
On his first spacewalk in 2001, Hadfield temporarily lost his vision. The anti-fog detergent used to polish the visor of his spacesuit caused his eyes to be irritated. The tears from the irritation had nowhere to go in a gravity-less environment and as a result, Hadfield had to vent some of his oxygen supply into space.
35. A Surprising Phobia
Despite going to places where only a handful of humans have ever gone before, Hadfield has a fear of heights. His fear of heights is perhaps tied to a fear of falling, as he explained to Canadian news magazine Maclean’s, “I would not want to stand on the edge of this roof above us and look down. It gives me a primal, almost uncontrollable fear—that watery feeling in the belly, where your legs are shaking and you can hardly move. But all I need to do is clip myself on [to a safety line], and I can manage that fear.”
36. Fluent in Russian
Hadfield is fluent in Russian. He has spent over 20 years studying the language and was able to put it to good use when he was NASA’s director of operations in Russia from 2001 to 2003.
37. Julia Child, Margaret Thatcher, Chris Hadfield???
If there is to be a biopic on his life and career, Hadfield would want actress Meryl Streep to play him. He told Global News, “Look at her, she’s amazing. She can play anyone—I definitely want her to play me.” Make it happen Hollywood!
38. Newfound Interest in a Musical Instrument
Hadfield’s use of a Larrivée Parlor guitar in the “Space Oddity” video and others created a lot of demand for the discontinued guitar. This convinced Larrivée, the British Columbia-guitar manufacturer, to revive the travel-size guitar model. The commemorative model received purchase orders of over $100,000.
39. Changes to His Body
Hadfield’s nearly six-month third spaceflight had quite the effect on his body. The effects of space took a toll on Hadfield’s bone and muscle density that required intensive rehab upon his return to Earth.
40. Under the Sea
In 2010, Hadfield served as the commander of the NEEMO-14 expedition. The 14-day expedition took place in Aquarius—NASA’s underwater sea laboratory off the coast of Key Largo, Florida and helped simulate the effects of space exploration.
41. Playing the Easter Bunny
Hadfield helped contribute to his reputation of being a cool, down-to-earth astronaut when as Commander of the ISS he put together an Easter egg hunt for his fellow astronauts.
42. Cast in Gold and Silver
Hadfield and the Canadarm2 were featured on special commemorative gold and silver coins issued by the Royal Canadian Mint. The coins were released in 2006 to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the 2001 expedition that carried Hadfield and delivered the Canadarm2 to the International Space Station.