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In the Pipeline: A star among stars

November 12, 2013|By Chris Epting
  • Col. Chris Hadfield Speaks at Barnes & Noble in Huntington Beach on Nov. 10.
Col. Chris Hadfield Speaks at Barnes & Noble in Huntington… (Chris Epting, HB…)

Just five months ago, astronaut Chris Hadfield, then commander of the International Space Station, struck an emotional chord with millions of people with his in-space performance video of the David Bowie classic "Space Oddity."

As poignant and stirring as that now famous clip is, and as much as it introduced this legendary Canadian astronaut to the world, to truly experience Hadfield, I think, requires the reading of his remarkable new book, "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth."

Hadfield visited the Huntington Beach Barnes & Noble last weekend, and before he headed upstairs to speak, take questions and sign books for an adoring crowd that had been waiting for hours, I had the good fortune to spend some time downstairs speaking with the distinguished colonel.

It cannot be overstated what Hadfield's many videos from space have done for the world. He humanized and made accessible the experience of space travel for many of us, with his easygoing way of illustrating how simple tasks appear when performed in space (when he's not performing miraculous technical achievements during his space walks).

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Whether brushing his teeth or fixing a meal, he turned millions of us back to the wide-eyed children we once were, dreaming of what it would be like to float around in space, observing the heavens from the heavens.

To today's children who have followed his adventures, Hadfield has become a modern-day hero in all the best ways. Whether above the atmosphere or on the ground, he has made it a point to speak to schoolchildren to give them a firsthand connection to what it is like to be an astronaut.

But the book is another experience altogether. Riveting, dramatic and intensely engrossing, Hadfield's engaging style as a writer puts you right alongside this almost absurdly compelling gentleman as he climbs the ladder from Canadian fighter pilot through two space shuttle missions and, ultimately, his serving as commander of the ISS.

The physical stamina it all requires, the politics, the PR, the team chemistry seem almost unfathomable. Almost.

Hadfield explains in vibrant detail not just what it feels like physically to become an astronaut, but also emotionally, waxing both scientific and philosophical. Part of his gift is his marvelous human touch, which allows the reader to vividly taste what these otherwise indescribable interstellar experiences are actually like.

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