Hey, hey spaceman: Chris Hadfield sends U of T students over the moon

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Students, faculty and staff pack hall for rock-star astronaut's free talk

“I went on this trip last year,” said Chris Hadfield to a packed house at Convocation Hall. “And I gotta tell you all about it.”

The accomplished astronaut and first Canadian to command the International Space Station (ISS) visited the University of Toronto March 14 to talk about the trips that have taken him beyond the wild blue yonder three times – and around the world 2,600 times.

The free event was a result of the inspiring work of U of T students. Last November, students raised $148,784 for Movember – a fundraising campaign to raise funds and awareness around prostate cancer, testicular cancer and men’s mental health challenges. Because they raised more money than any other Canadian university, the team’s prize was a campus visit by Hadfield.

Jesse Wolfstadt, chair of the U of T Movember Committee, presented Hadfield with a plaque for his contributions to the campaign, before Dr. Sarita Verma, deputy dean of U of T Medicine, introduced the star of the hour.

Hadfield’s talk was filled with fascinating facts about space travel. For instance, did you know the space shuttle travels at 8 km per second, and burns fuel at 12 tonnes a second in order to launch into orbit? Also, “You can’t see the Great Wall of China from space,” said Hadfield. “But you can see the 407.”

Hadfield regaled the enthusiastic U of T crowd with stories about the wonders and quirks of life in space: from weird astronaut superstitions to the complications of space diapers – and  coordinating a harrowing emergency spacewalk after the shuttle began leaking liquid ammonia.

He also spoke about harnessing the power of social media to share his experiences, through photos, videos – and of course, that version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” – with millions of people around the world.

“Social media is a way to share an honest and unique human experience,” he said. “And when you are in a unique place, doing something new, it is an incredibly powerful way of communicating to people who would otherwise not be able to come on board.”

Most inspiring of all was his tale of fulfilling his dream of becoming an astronaut, something he’d been planning since age nine.

“So how do you go from being that little Canadian kid… to being a commander of a spaceship?” asked Hadfield, looking into the crowd of U of T students, who had lined up halfway down King’s College Circle an hour in advance to see the astronaut at Convocation Hall.

“Most of you are living proof. You are proof of how lucky we are to be living in this country, where a little kid at nine years old thinks of something he wants to pursue, and has the stability and freedom to pursue an education that takes him in pursuit of his dreams -- that he can learn to fly.”

Although Hadfield’s experiences were out of this world, he said his lessons apply to life on earth too.

"One objective is just to share the interesting and fun parts of the experience, but really, my objective is to show people the possibilities that lie just beyond the easy horizon you see.”

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