Astronaut Chris Hadfield lands at Ryerson to inspire students

Photo by Julianna Perkins.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has come a long way since his humble beginnings as a young boy in a cardboard box spaceship on his family farm.

Hadfield, born before spaceflight even existed, has been on a lifelong journey to make his dreams of space exploration a reality.

“I don’t know where your dreams are right now in your life. What is it, you know, when you spend a moment imagining who you might be? What is fueling your dream?” asked Hadfield.  

Beyond the Horizon: The Hadfield Experience was organized by Ryerson’s George Vari Innovation Conference, Leadership Lab and Engineering Society, which brought the distinguished astronaut to the Mattamy Athletic Centre on Nov 2, 2018.

Humourous references to old Buck Rogers comics, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk and famous moonwalker Neil Armstrong led into Hadfield describing how early failure is the best teacher for “achieving the impossible.”

Hadfield gestures to a childhood photo of himself playing in a cardboard spaceship. (Julianna Perkins)

Hadfield was brought in to inspire students to take their dreams seriously, as he himself was a student for several years; he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, a master’s degree in aviation systems, became a test pilot and joined the Air Force. He reassured students that the dream is not always so clear during the busy, stressful moments in school.

“You can sometimes get frustrated. I spent my whole life being a student and you can lose sight of where you’re trying to get to. You can easily get so wrapped up in the work of the day or your studies that you forget that impossible things happen on a regular basis,” Hadfield said.

Hadfield cited Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first person to fly in space in 1961 and Neil Armstrong’s trip to the moon in 1969 as moments that fueled his ambition of becoming an astronaut, even at a time when the career was still an impossible option.

What is fueling your dream?

From experiencing the power of a rocket ship heading for orbit to jetting through the Northern Lights during each of his three trips to space, Hadfield immersed the audience in the same childlike wonder he had as a boy on the farm.

Water is a lot less entertaining on Earth where gravity is involved, said Hadfield, demonstrating with his full glass on stage. In space, spilled water forms orbs and floats. (Julianna Perkins)

Professor Karim Bardeesy, a visiting professor at Ryerson, said, “to hear [Hadfield] connect the lessons and be so pure about embracing your dream is a beautiful message.” Bardeesy had an onstage conversation with Hadfield during the event.

Zohair Khan, the director of community engagement in the faculty of engineering and architectural science, described Hadfield as “an all-around human being” with “the skills, traits and abilities” that students should look up to and admire.

Khan believes it was necessary to bring in a notable individual like Hadfield to speak to students because the university has a duty to educate and inspire its community.

Hadfield ended the night with his signature rendition of David Bowie’s hit song “Space Oddity,” which he famously performed aboard the International Space Station in 2013, further cementing his status as a Canadian music and aerospace icon.

Hadfield closed the night with a sing-a-long of his original duet “I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)” and a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” (Julianna Perkins)