Let’s face it most of us don’t do a lot of thinking about space. Sure we may wonder at the number of stars (especially when us city slickers are out in the country.) And we may marvel at the beauty of the northern lights (when we’re lucky enough to see them) but most of us don’t regularly think about it, we are far more concerned about terrestrial matters. Recently all that’s changed because of Chris Hadfield and social media. The vast expanses of space now have an outstanding public relations person who is getting average people around the world talking, thinking and marveling about space and what humanity can accomplish when it comes together.
Since he began his mission, just before Christmas last year, Hadfield has been using social media and the Internet to tell everyone back home what life is like on the International Space Station and it seems everyone around the world is following him. A quick search reveals over 79 million results for his name. Last month he answered questions in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session. He posts videos and does a blog for the Canadian Space Agency. Multiple times a day Hadfield has been tweeting observations from space and photos of locations around the world, including a snow-bound Edmonton. He has even tweeted pictures of everyday annoyances like his worn-out socks and everyday concerns like what the bathroom is like. He also tweeted about space with none other than Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, fellow Canadian William Shatner.
Space exploration and study has taken a few blows in recent years. NASA has put its shuttles out to pasture, most exploration is being done by tiny tank-like rovers and the expense of space programs has many wondering if we should be leaving the planet at all. All this tweeting and posting has created a new space buzz. Hadfield’s open and enthusiastic tweets have many talking about space in a positive light that has been missing in recent years. He is giving us a glimpse at the human beings who spend months of their lives orbiting the earth – it turns out that they are a lot like the rest of us. Yet there is something fantastic about reading a Twitter feed and seeing that a post was made less than a minute before or tweeting someone in space and getting a reply not long after.
In his tweets and posts Hadfield displays an infectious enthusiasm and a shutterbug tendency. Photos of London at night, the Australian outback, and the meandering Amazon river have garnered worldwide attention. And why not? It is a view seen by a select few that makes our planet look like a contemporary work of art. Hadfield is letting us all into a select club. Maclean’s recently included some of his breathtaking photos of earth in a photo essay. It has all helped his Twitter following grow from 20,000 at the time of launch to nearly 500,000 earlier this month according to Maclean’s.
Hadfield has also displayed a great presence in front of the camera whether he is talking to the press, in front of school kids from across the country or doing videos for Youtube. The Canadian Space Agency website has a sometimes humorous mission blog (a recent post was titled “Space Spinach Strikes Back”) in which Hadfield shows how things are done in space. He is engaging in a way few astronauts seem to be. He has the ability to make complicated science easy to understand. And after showing school kids in Alberta some food he’d received from home (maple syrup in a tube!) he was unabashed at tumbling weightless to catch his goodies after they floated away. An amateur musician he even wrote and performed a song with the Barenaked Ladies. He is an engaging spokesperson who is helping to rekindle interest in space and science.
At a time when budget cuts are reportedly hitting the Canadian Space Agency and science based industries hard this is all good news. By getting Canadians and people around the world engaged in space and science, Hadfield is giving the industry a boost it hasn’t had for years. Right now kids have a reason to be excited about science and that can be nothing but good for our future. Science and innovation are only going to get ever more important so getting kids excited about science and keeping them that way can only be good for our country. There isn’t a better spokesperson for it than Chris Hadfield.