When Commander Chris Hadfield was in space and posting images of the world from the International Space Station on social media, my son Sam and I loved following his incredible pictures and adventures. When we heard he was coming to Australia for a special show for Science Week, the same week as Sam’s 10th birthday, we booked tickets straight away.
The timing was perfect as we were already in Sydney that weekend for the G(irls)20 summit. It was a very excited group (with me possibly the most excited one of all) who headed off to the Powerhouse Museum for the show.
We knew there were a couple of other speakers as well, but the tickets didn’t include any information so we weren’t sure what we were going to see. There was very limited seating, and Stuart and I were lucky enough to claim the last two seats at the back (life in a boot does bring some advantages!) while Sam, his sister and her fellow Girl Up club members were ushered into the kids seating section on the floor to the side of the stage. Fair to say we weren’t expecting Dr Carin Bondar, a biologist with a special interest in Sex in Space!
She spoke really well and maintained a PG status (I would have loved to hear what went down in the 18+ show that evening, the dots certainly joined as to why it was strictly 18+ as it had been hard to imagine what Commander Hadfield was going to come out with that would need such a requirement!), but to say we were a little curious as to how the topic may have been going down with the tweens and the 10 year old was a definite understatement! Unsurprisingly it was the first topic of conversation when we met up with them after the show.
I loved that she broke every stereotype of what a female scientist should look and dress like. I would love to see Lego include a Dr Carin Bondar mini figure in their next iteration of the Lego Female Scientist Minifigures!
I took my Google Glass as I was hoping to take a few pictures for Sam to show his friends who were also big Commander Hadfield fans, and possibly record some parts of the show if allowed or appropriate. I also find it far easier and less intrusive to take photos or video using Glass than holding up a phone (or heaven forbid an iPad — anyone who’s been to a school concert and got stuck sitting behind the parent hell bent on capturing every second of their child’s performance while simultaneously ensuring that no one behind them is able to see a single thing knows where I’m coming from here! — and impinging on the view of everyone around me.
One of the first things that Commander Hadfield did after coming on stage was call for a volunteer from the audience. We were right up the back, so couldn’t believe it when Sam appeared on the stage as the one picked for his astronaut during lift off demonstration. Never have I been so happy to be wearing Glass, I was able to start the video instantly and record it for Sam while not only not interfering with what anyone around me, but also not impacting on my own ability to watch and listen.
The start of the video gives a clue as to why Sam was the one he picked!
We were all enthralled hearing about what life in space is like, accompanied by the incredible images of earth captured during his time commanding the International Space Station, which we all loved seeing. He told us outback Australia was his favourite view, but I’m not sure if that was just because we were an Australian audience.
My favourite was the amazing imagery of the Northern Lights, taken to a whole new level when accompanied with a story about being out on a space walk and having the lights licking around his boots. Incredible, and completely on message with his conversation about the necessity of using the arts to best communicate the lessons of STEM subjects .
It was also fascinating to hear about the impact that his social media activity had had on overall interest in the International Space Station and its work. This picture shows the number of hits on the ISS website, with the red line being before he started tweeting images of earth and the green line showing the completely different trajectory post social media commencement.
While all of his stories were fascinating, things got even more interesting when the session opened up for Q&A. It was pretty entertaining to hear about how someone with a fear of heights is able to go on a space walk hundreds of kms above earth, but as he pointed out ‘there’s a difference between fear and actual danger’ and exhorted the audience not to miss out on life because fear is holding you back.
We heard the question ‘What’s the food like in space?’ come from the rough area where the kids were sitting and were quietly confident it was from one of our group (confirmed as soon as we met them after the show), but that didn’t make the answer any less fascinating. Apparently its pretty much anything you can serve in a pouch and comes dehydrated to be reconstituted by either a hot or cold outlet pipe and then sipped by a straw. Interesting to hear Commander Hadfield came back from this mission exactly the same weight as when he left, but having lost 5kg of fat and gained 5kg of muscle due to both the physicality of the work and restrictive nature of the diet; it’s a pretty hardcore way to tone up though!
He finished off singing Space Oddity (if you listen carefully at the 30 second mark you”ll hear another shout out to Sam) and with words of encouragement to not get to the end of our lives trying to tick off a bucket list, but instead to spend every day doing as many things as we could, big and small, that make us happy.
He certainly made this ten-year-old and his family very happy. Here is Sam wearing the t-shirt that you can hear Chris speaking about at the start of the video that obviously appealed, and holding the guitar pick made in the shape of his mission crest that he received as thanks for getting up on stage. Definitely a 10th birthday that won’t be forgotten in a hurry, and thanks to Glass, one that Sam will be able to share with his friends and family for years to come.