The 20-minute Expedition 34 In-Flight Educational Event, organized by the Canadian Space Agency and facilitated from mission control at Johnson Space Center in Houston, brought Hadfield, aboard the International Space Station, into his namesake school — Chris Hadfield Public School in Milton.
The crowd, which also included Hadfield’s mom, Eleanor, and dad, Roger — who were seeing him speak live for the first time since he left for space on Dec. 19 — yelped with excitement before the hookup began, as Major Jeremy Hansen of the Canadian Space Program warmed them up.
“In the time we’re going to talk to him he’ll go as far as two trips across this country,” the Canadian astronaut said. “To get here, I flew from Houston to Toronto and drove to Milton, and Chris (in the ISS) could have made that trip in five minutes.”
Suddenly, mission control interrupted, and Hadfield, floating in the ISS, appeared on the screen as the students cheered. “Chris Hadfield Public School, Principal Marks and Hadfield Hawks, hello, I read you loud and clear,” Hadfield said by way of greeting.
A student from each grade, 1 through 8, was selected to ask the affable astronaut a question that was settled on by their class — and nervously rehearsed for many hours — confessed vice-principal Maggie Parker.
“When you get close to a star what does it really look like?” asked Grade 2 student Nikky Rodriguez. “I’d like to know so I can draw them better.”
“They look like perfect points of light,” Hadfield said.
“How would your body be affected by being in space so long?” asked Grade 6 student Ibrahim Vakil.
Hadfield told Vakil he must exercise hard for two hours each day to keep his muscles from weakening due to the weightlessness in space.
“See, my legs got really skinny in space,” he said, raising his thin lower limbs for the camera. “The blood doesn’t flow down there. You also get a very big swollen head. It’s very confusing up here. There’s no up or down.”
The session, which was broadcast on a large screen with clear picture and sound, was long on education but also entertainment.
Hadfield, dressed in a black T-shirt, khaki shorts and black socks, somersaulted and rolled about as objects — his microphone, watch and guitar — drifted and danced slowly around him.
He played his guitar, to show it sounds pretty normal in space, and he glided over to the portholes and said he was passing over South America. He promised to take a photograph of Milton when the weather improved and he could see it better.
The simplest question revealed the most surprising, beautiful answer, and best described what it’s like to be in space.
“I’d like to know what’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen in space?” asked Grade 5 student Sundas Siddiqui.
“The coolest thing I’ve ever seen in space is sunrise,” Hadfield said. “When the sun comes up it is beautiful. We come around the world and drive into the sunshine and the whole horizon suddenly glows beautiful orange and every colour in the rainbow. Then the sun bursts up … the big solar arrays glow blood red and yellow and orange and blue, as the light shines on them. And suddenly we’re in the daylight. It happens so fast — and it happens 16 times a day.”
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