You’re In A Spacesuit, Blind. This Astronaut Survived It And Explains What He Did Next

“There is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse.” So with that old astronaut principle in mind, what is the best reaction to take when your eyes become blinded while you’re working on the International Space Station, in no more protection than with a spacesuit?

The always eloquent Canadian (retired) astronaut Chris Hadfield — commander of Expedition 35 — faced this situation in 2001. He explains the best antidotes to fear: knowledge, practice and understanding. And in this TED talk uploaded this week, he illustrates how to conquer some dangers in space with the simple analogy of walking into a spiderweb.

Say you’re terrified of spiders, worried that one is going to poison you and kill you. The first best thing to do is look at the statistics, Hadfield said. In British Columbia (where the talk was held), there is only one poisonous spider among hundreds. In space, the odds are grimmer: a 1 in 9 chance of catastrophic failure in the first five shuttle flights, and something like 1 in 38 when Hadfield took his first shuttle flight in 1995 to visit the space shuttle Mir.

So how do you deal with the odds? For spiders, control the fear, walk through spiderwebs as long as you see there’s nothing poisonous lurking. For space? “We don’t practice things going right, but we practice things going wrong, all the time so you are always walking through those spiderwebs,” Hadfield said.

And then he tells the tale of his 2001 spacewalk during STS-100 when he was outside, blinded by a substance in his helmet, trying to work through the problem. (The incident has even more resonance today, just a few months after an Italian astronaut had a life-threatening water leak in his NASA spacesuit.)

Be sure to watch the talk to the end, as Hadfield has a treat for the audience. And as always, listening to Hadfield’s descriptions of space is a joy: “A self propelled art gallery of fantastic changing beauty that is the world itself,” is among the more memorable phrases of the talk.

TED, a non-profit that bills itself as one that spreads ideas, charged a hefty delegate fee for attendees at this meeting (reported at $7,500 each) but did free livestreaming at several venues in the Vancouver area. It also makes its talks available on the web for free.

Hadfield rocketed to worldwide fame last year after doing extensive social media and several concerts from orbit.

Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield at a TED talk near Vancouver, British Columbia in 2014. Credit: TED/Sapling Foundation (screenshot)
Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield at a TED talk near Vancouver, British Columbia in 2014. Credit: TED/Sapling Foundation (screenshot)

Robots And Astronauts Feature In First Glimpse of Canada’s New Space Policy

About six years ago, the Canadarm — Canada’s iconic robotic arm used in space — was almost sold to a company in the United States, along with other space technology from MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates. The Canadian government blocked the sale and swiftly came out with a promise: a space policy to better support Canada’s industry.

That promise was made in September 2008. “Time is of the essence,” then-Industry Minister Jim Prentice told reporters upon announcing a space policy would be created. Today, 65 months later, the government released the high-level framework of that policy. Astronauts, telescopes and yes, the Canadarm are all prominently mentioned in there.

A lot has happened in six years. Policy-makers used to cite successor Canadarm2’s role in space station construction. Now the arm also does things that were barely imaginable in 2008 — namely, berthing commercial spacecraft such as SpaceX’s Dragon at the International Space Station. It shows how quickly space technology can change in half a decade.

At 13 pages, there isn’t a lot of information in Canada’s framework yet to talk about, but there are some statements about government priorities. Keep the astronaut program going (which is great news after the success of Chris Hadfield). A heavy emphasis on private sector collaboration. And a promise to keep funding Canada’s contribution to the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s next large observatory in space.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield prior to his world-famous Expedition 34/35 mission in 2013. Credit: NASA
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield prior to his world-famous Expedition 34/35 mission in 2013. Credit: NASA

These are the Top 5 priorities listed in the plan:

  • Canada First: Serving Canada’s interests of “sovereignty, security and prosperity.” As an example: The country has a huge land-mass that is sparsely populated, so satellites are regularly used to see what ship and other activity is going on in the territories. This is a big reason why the Radarsat Constellation of satellites is launching in 2018.
  • Working together globally: Canada has a tiny space budget ($488.7 million in 2013-14, $435.2 million in 2014-15 and $382.9 million in 2015-16), so it relies on other countries to get its payloads, astronauts and satellites into space. This section also refers to Canada’s commitment to the International Space Station, which (as with other nations) extends to at least 2024. That’s good news for astronauts Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques, who are waiting for their first trip there.
  • Promoting Canadian innovation: The James Webb Telescope (to which Canada is contributing optics and a guidance system) is specifically cited here along with the Canadarm. Priority areas are Canada’s historic strengths of robotics, optics, satellite communications, and space-based radar, as well as “areas of emerging expertise.”
  • Inspiring Canadians: Basically a statement saying that the government will “recruit, and retain highly qualified personnel,” which in more real terms means that it will need to keep supporting Canadian space companies financially through contracts, for example, to make this happen.

That last point in particular seemed to resonate with at least one industry group.

James Webb Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/JPL
James Webb Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/JPL

“A long-term strategic plan for Canada’s space program is critical for our industry. In order to effectively invest in innovation, technology and product development, we rely heavily on knowing what the government’s priorities for the space program are,” stated Jim Quick, president of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (a major group that represents the interests of private space companies.)

While we wait for more details to come out, here’s some valuable background reading. The space-based volume of the Emerson Report (the findings of a government-appointed aerospace review board listed in 2012) called for more money for and more stable funding of the Canadian Space Agency, among other recommendations.

And here’s the government’s point-by-point response in late 2013. In response to funding: “The CSA’s total funding will remain unchanged and at current levels. The government will also leverage existing programs to better support the space industry.” Additionally, the CSA’s space technologies development program will be doubled to $20 million annually by 2015-16, which is still below the Emerson report’s recommendation of adding $10 million for each of the next three years.

What are your thoughts on the policy? Let us know in the comments.

Chris Hadfield Launched Into Space One Year Ago Today

And we have liftoff … for a social media sensation! Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield rocketed into orbit a year ago today (Dec. 19, 2012) accompanied by NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut  Roman Romanenko.

Hadfield was a part of the Expedition 34 crew, then took command of the station during Expedition 35 in early 2013. While running an extremely productive science mission, he did tons of public outreach, ranging from singing to humorous space-y how-to videos to chatting with numerous celebrities before landing in May.

The Canadian Space Agency invited folks on Twitter to share their reflections under the hashtag #hadfield1yr, which is already producing a lot of thoughtful responses (a few of which you can see below the jump). What was your favorite part of the mission? Feel free to share in the comments.

While Hadfield is retired as an astronaut, he remains very busy. He’s in the middle of a multi-country book tour and will begin teaching at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada in fall 2014.

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Chris Hadfield On Space-y $5 Bill: ‘It Reminds Us That Our Dreams Do Not Have A Limit’

In Canada, “gimme five” could soon have a space connotation. Today the country announced it is preparing to put new polymer $5 bills into circulation that feature Canadian robotics and an astronaut.

At the official circulation ceremony near Montreal, Que. was none other than Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who brought unprecedented social media attention to space through social media. The world was enchanted by his guitar playing and crying in space, but in space circles he also commands a lot of respect. The trilingual Hadfield visited two space stations, helped build the robotic Canadarm2 in space, and commanded the International Space Station, among other achievements.

His presence was appropriate, because the $5 bill has a lot of robotics on it. Canadarm2, Dextre and an astronaut are splashed across one face of the bill. “It reminds us that our dreams do not have a limit,” Hadfield said in French.

Canadarm2, Dextre and an unidentified astronaut will all feature on Canada's new $5 bill. Credit: Bank of Canada
Canadarm2, Dextre and an unidentified astronaut on Canada’s new $5 bill. Credit: Bank of Canada

“It serves as a reminder to all Canadians of the dedication and hard work of so many people across the Canadian Space Agency and the space industry across Canada, and the scientists and engineers that make the design of these incredibly complex robots and getting them into space somehow easy,” Hadfield added in English. “Being involved in it is the real inspiration part. Who knows where such innovation can take us.”

The Bank of Canada first unveiled the new $5 and $10 bills in April, while Hadfield was at the helm of the station. Canada’s central banking authority is touting the new plasticized bill series as more durable than past cotton-based ones, with better counterfeit measures such as transparency. Polymer bills are available already in $20, $50 and $100 denominations.

Opposite to the space-themed side of the $5 bill is a picture of past prime minister Wilfrid Laurier. The new $10 bill features a train on one side and (as with the past iteration) John A. Macdonald, the first Canadian prime minister, on the other.

Hadfield himself has featured on both Canadian currency and stamps in the past: the Royal Mint of Canada issued two coins with him and Canadarm2 in 2006, and Hadfield was among several astronauts put on to Canadian stamps in 2003.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield holds a version of the $5 bill on the International Space Station on April 30, 2013. Credit: Bank of Canada (webcast)
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield holds a version of the $5 bill on the International Space Station on April 30, 2013. Credit: Bank of Canada (webcast)

Chris Hadfield Regretted Not Being Able To Make One Last Spacewalk

Chris Hadfield loved spacewalking. That was clear in a past interview he did for Universe Today:

It is like coming around a corner and seeing the most magnificent sunset of your life, from one horizon to the other where it looks like the whole sky is on fire and there are all those colors, and the sun’s rays look like some great painting up over your head. You just want to open your eyes wide and try to look around at the image, and just try and soak it up. It’s like that all the time. Or maybe the most beautiful music just filling your soul. Or seeing an absolutely gorgeous person where you can’t just help but stare. It’s like that all the time.

Late in Hadfield’s final mission to space this May, when the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut was commanding the International Space Station Expedition 35 crew, an ammonia leak happened and NASA had to scramble a plan for a spacewalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA), to fix it. (The fix succeeded.) When Hadfield was apprised of the plan, he says in an excerpt from his forthcoming book, he was disappointed:

I wasn’t going out. I had a moment where I allowed myself to experience the full force of my disappointment. This would have been the heroic climax of my stint as commander: helping to save the ISS by doing an emergency spacewalk. I’d never have another chance to do an EVA—I’d already informed the CSA that I planned to retire shortly after returning to Earth.

But Chris [Cassidy] and Tom [Marshburn] had both done three previous EVAs, two of them together, on the same part of the station where ammonia was now leaking. They were the obvious people for the job. All this went through my head and heart for a minute or two, then I made a resolution: I was not going to hint that I’d had this pang of envy, or say, even once, that I wished I was doing the EVA. The right call had been made, and I needed to accept it and move on so that we could all focus on the main thing—the only thing, really: working the problem.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Live On Earth isn’t out until Nov. 3, but Maclean’s magazine has a lengthy excerpt that not only talks about the spacewalk, but some behind-the-scenes discussion on Hadfield’s awe-inspiring version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” recorded on the International Space Station.

‘I Didn’t Think He Would Drown’: Spacewalking Crewmember on Spacesuit Leak

Safely back on Earth on Sept. 10, astronaut Chris Cassidy happily chatters about his daily trips to the gym — “I feel real solid with my walking”, he says — and cracks one-liners during one of a series of media interviews on Thursday.

“It was such a treat being up there with [Chris] Hadfield, and I think I need to get credit for filming some of those videos,” joked Cassidy in a phone interview from Houston with Universe Today. His favorite video with Canada’s Expedition 35 commander? A remake of David Bowie’s Space Oddity that got props from Bowie himself.

Cassidy’s half-year voyage in space was full of these light moments, such as his decision to shave his head in homage to his bald crewmate, Luca Parmitano, who arrived on the International Space Station as a part of Expedition 36 on May 29. Weeks later, however, the men’s mood turned serious during a July 16 spacewalk; Parmitano reported water pooling at the back of his head.

“I was watching out when we were face to face outside,” Cassidy said. “Once it got onto his eyebrow hair area, it whipped across the top of his forehead and then sort of slid around his eyeballs. It migrates from hair to hair, and the little wispy hairs around your eyes, kind of, and then it travelled towards his eyelids and eyelashes. That was the scary part.”

Cassidy is a former Navy SEAL who passed, first try, the grueling “hell week” all recruits go through. In 5.5 days, SEAL trainees get just four hours of rack time while having to move for up to 200 miles. A veteran of shuttle mission STS-127, Cassidy also accumulated more than 18 hours of spacewalking experience across three excursions. All of his knowledge was brought to bear as he watched the water travelling across Parmitano’s head.

Luca Parmitano during a a spacewalk on July 16, 2013. An hour into the spacewalk, he reported water in his helmet and NASA cut the spacewalk short. Credit: NASA
Luca Parmitano during a a spacewalk on July 16, 2013. An hour into the spacewalk, he reported water in his helmet and NASA cut the spacewalk short. Credit: NASA

“From my experience in the military, I know bad things don’t get better fast, but they get worse fast. I wanted to get as quickly to the airlock as we could,” Cassidy said. NASA prudently ended the spacewalk and told Parmitano to head back to the hatch. Cassidy quickly did a cleanup at the work site and followed Parmitano.

“When we left each other at the work site and we had to go our separate ways back, at first I wasn’t too concerned,” Cassidy said. “And then when we left each other, the sun set. It was dark. His comm was going in and out and I could tell from his voice he was getting less and less comfortable … He didn’t have a whole lot of EVA experience, and it was nighttime, which is significant. It was pitch dark. You just have to know your way back, and he couldn’t see that well.”

Back in the hatch, Cassidy and Parmitano communicated through hand squeezes as the water was soaking Parmitano’s communications system. Cassidy carefully watched Parmitano’s mouth to see if the water was getting near there.

“I didn’t think he would drown, to be honest … but if it got close to his mouth I was going to immediately open the valve that equalizes pressure [inside the hatch.]” Cassidy added that usually, NASA goes slow during repressurization for ear safety and some technical reasons, but in this case he was prepared to flood the compartment if necessary. But it wasn’t. The rest of the crew then opened the hatch and got Parmitano out of his spacesuit as quickly as they could.

ISS Astronauts had to scramble to get Luca Parmitano out of his spacesuit after water leaked inside the suit, covering his face. Via NASA TV.
ISS Astronauts had to scramble to get Luca Parmitano out of his spacesuit after water leaked inside the suit, covering his face. Via NASA TV.

“Just from a human interest point of view, it was a lot of water,” Cassidy said. “When you try to describe an amount of water it’s difficult to put it in terms that people get it. But it was definitely more than a softball or two softballs of water inside the helmet.”

You can read Parmitano’s blogged account of the spacewalk here. The astronaut is currently unavailable for interviews while he is in orbit, the European Space Agency told Universe Today. NASA is still investigating the cause — the agency, in fact, also has a parallel investigation to look at spacewalk safety procedures in general. Cassidy attempted to change a filter and do other repairs in orbit, but the leak still happened, as these videos show. More detailed analysis will happen when the spacesuit goes back to Earth on a future SpaceX Dragon cargo flight, Cassidy said.

Cassidy also performed an emergency spacewalk in May when a coolant leak was discovered on the station itself as Hadfield’s Expedition 35 crew was set to return home. In just days — a typical spacewalk takes at least months to plan — NASA swiftly implemented a successful fix. Cassidy said his work was the easiest bit of all. “All I had to do was go out there and change the pump,” he said.

Despite the mishaps, however, science productivity on the station has reached a high when compared to maintenance activities. Expedition 35 reportedly had the most productive science mission to date, and Cassidy said Expedition 36 will likely show similar results. “We had a real nice successful six month stretch there where things were just working, and that allowed us to do a lot of science,” Cassidy said. One experiment involved playing with rovers.

The K10 Black planetary rover during a Surface Telerobotics Operational Readiness Test at NASA's Ames Research Center. Credit: NASA/Dominic Hart
The K10 Black planetary rover during a Surface Telerobotics Operational Readiness Test at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Credit: NASA/Dominic Hart

Cassidy, Parmitano and Karen Nyberg each took turns operating the K10 rover prototype, a NASA Ames Research Center project. The goal is to simulate how astronauts could control a rover on an asteroid, the moon or Mars rather than heading down to the surface themselves.

“That was really cool to know we were on the space station, flying around the planet, with this actual real thing in California moving around,” Cassidy said. “It was more testing of what user interfaces are most intuitive and most useful for this kind of application … and in my opinion they pretty much nailed it, it was so intuitive.”

Now back on Earth, Cassidy said he generally feels great from a health perspective. His first set of exercises came about an hour after landing. He was carried into a medical tent and asked to do a quick series: sit in a chair and then stand up for 10 seconds. Lie on the ground for about a minute, then try standing for three minutes.

“My legs got wobbly for fatigue. They weren’t used to holding that weight,” Cassidy said, but observed that he readjusted to Earth’s gravity quickly during his first day back, which was mainly spent flying from Kazakhstan back to Houston.

The new in-the-field experiments will be the first of a dataset on astronaut health, meant to provide more information ahead of the first one-year trip to the International Space Station.

Astronauts Wax Poetic About Seeing Earth from Space

Astronauts have tried to explain the view of Earth from space, with many saying that there just aren’t the words to describe how beautiful it is. In the latest episode of the “Science Garage,” recent ISS astronauts Tom Marshburn and Chris Hadfield might do the best job so far of relating not only the “incredible and unwrapping perspective of looking at the Earth,” but how it changed their perspective of humanity. Hadfield compares coming into the cupola of the International Space Station as being like “entering the Sistine Chapel.”

Watch below:


The Ever-Eloquent Chris Hadfield Explains the Importance of the International Space Station

Leave it to the well-spoken and articulate Chris Hadfield to explain the importance of the space station in such poetic language. In this interview with NPR this week, Hadfield not only talks about how his recent Expedition to the ISS “went viral” but what else is going on in space besides making music videos.

Listen to the entire interview (7 and a half minutes) below, but the main points about the cost and utility of the ISS are….

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that’s important for the future of the program, to try to make a big extra effort to engage people, when we’re all so concerned about how much it all costs?

HADFIELD: You know, you can’t support the Space Station if you don’t know it exists. People have to know it exists, and see that it serves us at a lot of different levels, everything from understanding how to extinguish flame inside a wall, to the fact that you can record a David Bowie video in weightlessness and thrill, you know, tens of millions of people. All of that is possible up there. You need to make an effort to engage people in it and show them that this is, of all the things that we’re choosing to do with our tax dollars, this is one of the really cool, interesting things. And then they can make their own decision as to whether we should support it or not.

WERTHEIMER: The science has always been interesting, of course, but the thing that I think most people on Earth think about is not going to the Space Station, but going past the Space Station, traveling in space.

HADFIELD: For thousands of years, people sailed in rivers and up and down the coast. And only after they had invented so many things – navigation, food supply, really good sails, ships they could count on – did they turn away from shore and go over the horizon. They had to invent a lot of things first. There may have been people that went over the horizon, but they probably didn’t come back, because they didn’t know enough stuff yet.

And we are, right now, sailing within the sight of shore. We’re trying to figure out all those things as we go around the world, so that when you do fire your engines and go 40 percent faster and leave the Earth, and it’s been really hard to turn around and come back, that you can count on your sailing ship, that it’s going to keep you alive and get you where you want to go. And that’s what the Space Station is. It is the crucible where we’re learning and testing and figuring out all those things so that we can go further, which is inevitably what we’re going to do.

Source: NPR

Chris Hadfield Hangs Up His Astronaut Suit

In a somewhat surprise announcement, Canadian astronaut — and social media icon — Chris Hadfield announced his retirement from the astronaut corps, just weeks after he returned home from his highly successful expedition to the International Space Station.

The wildly popular Hadfield made the announcement at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters near Montreal on Monday. He had called a press conference there to share highlights from his five-month mission, but also announced his retirement as well as his plans to return to live in Canada after spending much of his 21-year astronaut career at Johnson Space Center in Houston or Star City in Russia.

“I’m making good on a promise I made my wife nearly 30 years ago — that yes, eventually, we would be moving back to Canada,” Hadfield said during the press conference.

In posting the above image on Twitter, he said that saying “goodbye to these good people today was much harder than I expected.”

The 53-year-old Hadfield sent a nearly constant stream of magnificent images, informative videos and ebullient Tweets during his pre-flight training and his Expedition 34/35, as well as hosting numerous interviews and educational events with school groups via webcasts from the ISS. With over a million followers on Twitter, his words were read – and widely retweeted — by people around the world.

“I am extremely proud to have shared my experience,” Hadfield said in a statement from the CSA. “I will continue to reinforce the importance of space exploration through public speaking and will continue to visit Canadian schools through the CSA.”

“Chris Hadfield made space exploration history by becoming the first Canadian to command the International Space Station, a feat that instilled pride from coast-to-coast-to-coast,” said Candian Parliamentary Secretary Chris Alexander. “His efforts have affirmed our country’s world-renowned space expertise. I would like to personally thank Chris for his commitment to bringing the spirit of discovery not only to all Canadians, but to the world.”

Sources: CSA press release, CBC