If you’re a guitar playing, book plugging astronaut, then one of the best places in London other than a bookshop to sell books is probably the Science Museum.
So this evening, Cmdr Chris Hadfield entertained an audience with anecdotes about his life in space, and sold some books.
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As someone who became quite a star on the social-media circuit, but is more professionally skilled at talking to schools, he had a good presentation style and manner with some wry jokes about the discomforts of being stuck in a space suit for hours on end.
Turns out they wear nappies on the launch flight as it can easily be 8-hours before they can go to the loo again. The return trip churns up their stomachs so much that photos of happy smiling astronauts being pulled out of their spacecraft mask the urgent need to vomit.
And he lost about 7 percent of the bone mass in his hips while in space, which will slowly recover.
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It even turned out that the social-media stuff was a bit of an accident. While almost everything else was planned carefully, the twitter posts were more a case of if it works, cool, and if not, can I email my son at home and he can do it.
It worked — and in a way, made space cool again.
We’ve got a bit blasé about space recently, and with countries such as India and China getting into the space age, people spend less time gasping in awe and more time complaining about waste of resources.
Space exploration isn’t just about the science though — and despite the naysayers, there’s plenty of that — it’s about having something bigger than ourselves to strive for, something exciting and big and awesome.
We want heroes in our lives, and in an age of manufactured pop celebrities, astronauts are some of the few genuine heroes left that we can look at say admit that they are a breed apart from the rest of us. And now they have Twitter as well.
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But space also reminds us of how fragile our existence on this planet is. Cmdr Hadfield described our existence as like germs hiding under sink hoping no one notices we are here.
We live on the thin skin of a boiling planet with just a couple of miles of usable atmosphere above our heads, and just a few hundred feet of comfortable rock beneath us. It’s a precarious existence and one that few people who leave its confines ever seem to be unaffected by upon their return.
It is also our ability to vicariously live through their experiences that reminds us of how fragile our lives are. There is something intangibly powerful about looking at a photo of earth taken by a human that makes it more immediate than if that same photo were taken by a satellite.
That’s probably why in an age of Google Earth and the ready availability of photos of almost every part of this planet we live on — a human in space taking those same photos triggered long dormant excitement about space again.
I still get a bit silly excited when the ISS flies directly over London and want to go outside and watch that bright star zoom overhead, knowing in my mind’s eye that it’s not just a star, but a huge space station with humans inside it.
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Col Hadfield finished a question session by responding to a girl in the audience, by saying that he hopes when she is his age, there will be someone standing on Mars.
Scientists will tell you that a rover sent to another planet is cheaper, safer, and much more effective than a human traveling there. But the day a rover lands on Mars, some people are moderately interested.
When man steps foot on Mars, the entire planet will watch it happen.