An astronaut in cyberspace: How Chris Hadfield used Twitter to give us all (even Star Trek's William Shatner) a taste of life on the International Space Station

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Commander Hadfield has changed the way we think about space

Captain Kirk played a key role in thrusting Commander Hadfield to the sort of fame not enjoyed by a real-life spaceman for decades. William Shatner, who played Kirk in Star Trek, contacted Hadfield on Twitter a couple of weeks after the astronaut first floated into the International Space Station.

Out of this world: In pictures - astronaut Chris Hadfield tweets stunning images of Earth from space

"Are you tweeting from space?" Shatner asked his compatriot (both men are Canadian) in early January. "Yes, Standard Orbit, Captain," Hadfield replied from 250 miles up, where the Sun sets 16 times a day. "And we're detecting signs of life on the surface."

Shatner later dusted off his communicator and called Hadfield. The laid-back exchange went viral on YouTube, giving yet another boost to the profile of a moustachioed farm boy from small-town Canada who has, according to one of his legion fans, "single-handedly made space sexy again".

Chris Hadfield, who is preparing for his return to Earth on 13 May after six months in orbit, has become a star thanks in part to a grasp of technology that makes Kirk look like a late adopter. Via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, he has beamed down to an audience of millions with his captivating videos, photos, music and poetic takes on extraterrestrial life.

In his most-viewed clip, Hadfield, 53, shows how even the mundane can become spellbinding without gravity. When he wrings a soaking cloth, the water leaves it but its surface tension means it won't go any further, so it forms a rippling tube that amazes Hadfield as much as the seven million people who have watched his experiment.

Other hits filmed when Hadfield isn't conducting official experiments in man's remotest laboratory – or speaking live to groups of rapt schoolchildren – show how astronauts sleep, shave, cry and recycle their urine (yes, for drinking). His second-most-viewed video doesn't feature him at all, but a 27-second close-up of nuts floating around inside their tub.

Equipped with cameras and big zoom lenses, Hadfield also takes photos of rivers, cities, oceans and deserts – whatever catches his eye out the window. He shares them with captions that recall something of the early wonder of the "earthrise" and "blue marble" photographs that first revealed the beautiful fragility of our planet.

The winning combination of profundity and giddy enthusiasm is not new to Hadfield's son Evan. "It's tough not to be biased," he says from Germany, where he lives, "but Dad's one of those people who only come along every once in a while."

Even so, Evan, 28, says he has always been cool about having a spaceman for a dad – he was 10 when Hadfield first went into orbit (this is his third mission) – but he gets why so many others are in awe. Our idea of space these days tends to concern "missions and machines", he says, adding: "Rarely do you see the focus on the individual. We've seen thousands of pictures from space but people are interested in Dad's because they're taken by a man just like them."

Hadfield Jnr must also take credit for his father's rocketing profile. He works in parallel with the Canadian Space Agency, which edits and posts the videos, as Hadfield's social-media mission control. He receives text from space via email for captions and manages his dad's Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Google+ accounts.

"I told Dad at the start not to expect too much," Evan says. "But I don't think an astronaut has had this level of media success since the Moon landings."

Hadfield has almost 750,000 followers on Twitter alone, providing priceless PR for Canada's space programme. Frustrated with low public interest in its online content during previous missions, it planned Hadfield's well in advance, deciding to focus on fun, informative videos. "What was not planned was the response," says Julie Simard, senior communications adviser to the Canadian Space Agency. She and the Hadfields have received thousands of emails from fans as well as from producers and publishers – and teachers who have used Hadfield's work in lessons.

Chris Riley is a British astronomy writer and the co-director of the 2007 documentary In the Shadow of the Moon. He says Hadfield has helped to put the man back into space. "In the early days of human space flight, training required an element of precision and accuracy that didn't always allow room for emotion. But now more than 500 people have flown into space, and there's room for a wider spectrum of personality."

Hadfield knows precision – he has a degree in mechanical engineering and is a former test pilot – but he also has an emotional attachment to space, born on an Ontario corn farm. He was nine when he watched Neil Armstrong's lunar landing on television at his parents' farm. Racing outside to gaze up at the Moon, he knew where his future lay. "Everywhere he's got he learnt growing up on that farm," Evan says. "He's a smart guy from a small town. It's hard for him not to be folksy."

As those live broadcasts showed, space has also always been at the forefront of communications technology. While today's tools and a media-savvy son (Evan has an MBA in marketing) have amplified Hadfield's personality, Riley says there were exceptions to the taciturn-astronaut stereotype. "When I made In the Shadow of the Moon everybody told us there was no point interviewing the Apollo astronauts, that they were emotionless automatons. But they had the most compelling things to say about the experience of leaving Earth, and how it touches us on a human level."

Where next for Commander Hadfield? He has said he'd volunteer to go to Mars, even on a one-way mission. But if that doesn't happen in his lifetime, perhaps a second career in music beckons. He plays guitar in several astronaut bands and in February performed a duet from space with Ed Robertson, the frontman for Barenaked Ladies. Hadfield's solo, which he co-wrote, includes the line: "Pushed back in my seat, look out my window, there goes home. That ball of shining blue houses everybody, anybody, ever knew."

Hello spaceboy: The wit and wisdom of Commander Chris Hadfield

On weightlessness: "Imagine floating in a pool without water."

On lift-off: "Launch is like being shaken in a huge dog's jaws, while pushed from the Earth by an unstoppable unseen giant force."

On the weather: "Lightning at night is awesome – thousands of km of arcing light and power… and hurricanes are HUGE – like Jupiter's red spot."

On orbiting Earth: "A great way to see the world – around it in 90 minutes! Gives 16 sunrises and sets a day – beyond beautiful."

On the view of Southern England at night: "The lights act like a census."

On the desert: "These mouthwatering generous folds of icing are actually Saudi sand."

On down time aboard the International Space Station: "ISS end-end races, zero-G hide and seek, and velcro darts."

On Earth: "In proportion, our atmosphere is no thicker than the varnish on a globe. Deceptively fragile."

Watch Chris Hadfield's videos of life in a spaceship outside planet Earth below:

Chris Hadfield in a video call with William Shatner

 

Sleeping in Space

 

Is Somebody Singing: The first space-to-earth musical collaboration

Experiment of the wet cloth

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
music
Sport
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
football
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Arts and Entertainment
As depicted in Disney's Robin Hood, King John was cowardly, cruel, avaricious and incompetent
film
Life and Style
Travis Kalanick, the co-founder of Uber, is now worth $5.3bn
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn