He’s been to space and back, but this fall Commander Chris Hadfield will be embarking on a new journey as he moves into a teaching position in the aviation department at the University of Waterloo. Before he does, though, we wanted to ask him about his previous career and what it’s like to be an astronaut.
When did you know you wanted to be an astronaut?
I decided I want to be an astronaut July 20, 1969, because that’s the day Neil and Buzz walked on the moon. I was inspired by them, and I not only wanted to be an astronaut, I wanted to be Neil Armstrong. He was pretty cool.
How did you get your job?
It only took 26 years of work to get the job. I had no idea how to get the job, so I figured, well, they’re not going to choose me randomly. It was going to be something I was going to have to pursue. So I started turning myself into an astronaut, basically. They keep their bodies in shape and they have university degrees and they know how to fly. I got my job by slowly becoming more and more qualified at many things over a few decades.
What would you be if not an astronaut?
I always thought about that because the odds of being an astronaut are terrible. Once I got qualified as an engineer I knew I could always work as an engineer. And as soon as I was qualified as a pilot I thought, well, at least I can work as a pilot as long as my medical holds. And then I became a fighter pilot. Then I did a master’s degree in aviation systems. Once I got to that level, and if they hadn’t selected me as an astronaut, then I would have gone on to be a university professor.
What’s the biggest misconception about your job?
A lot of people think that astronauts, their job is about flying in space. I was an astronaut for 21 years and I was in space for six months. The reality of an astronaut’s job is all about being on Earth and preparing and helping other people fly in space and supporting them and training each other. There’s a huge amount of work that happens on Earth in order to make the very rare experience of space travel happen.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Give yourself a long-term goal, but don’t make that goal your only measure of success. Celebrate all the daily successes that happen in between. It is far better to have 10 successes a day than one success every 10 years. Also, that you are the result of your own decisions. If you want to become somebody else then start making some different decisions, and whittle yourself like some sort of perpetually shifting sculpture into who you want to be.
What’s something you learned about yourself during your most recent mission?
I learned that I’m a much bigger fan of Bowie than I thought I was. I had no intention of recording a Bowie video when I went into orbit, and it sure had a big impact.