Why astronaut Chris Hadfield isn't afraid of death

Why astronaut Chris Hadfield isn’t afraid of death

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Former astronaut Chris Hadfield will not be afraid of death.

That may appear stunning, given the security document of human spaceflight. To date, 565 women and men have ventured into area, and 32 have died whereas going up, coming down or getting ready for flight. Do the mathematics, and meaning an astronaut’s odds of dying on the job are greater than 1 in 20.

That was a stark actuality for somebody like Hadfield, who spent 35 years as a navy pilot and astronaut earlier than retiring from the Canadian Space Agency in 2013. Hadfield flew into Earth orbit 3 times, together with two journeys aboard the area shuttle and one aboard the troubled Russian Mir area station.

For his final journey into area, in 2012, he spent 144 days as commander aboard the International Space Station.

Image: Chris Hadfield
Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield strums his guitar within the International Space Station’s Cupola on Dec. 25, 2012.NASA

Maybe you’re among the many 39 million individuals who’ve watched the video of him overlaying David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” whereas floating weightless within the station’s seven-windowed cupola.

He certain doesn’t appear afraid within the video. In reality, he appears to be like totally serene.

A frequent query

Astronauts hear the query on a regular basis: When you strap in atop an infinite stick of explosive gasoline after which shoot into the breathless vacuum of area, aren’t you afraid to die?

Hadfield’s reply is all the time “no.” To him, the query is predicated on a flawed premise: “In common life, we make fear and dangerous synonymous, but they’re not,” he says. They solely appear that manner as a result of few individuals put together extensively for harmful issues, he explains, however being ready is strictly what astronauts do by means of years of intense coaching.

“The greatest antidote for fear is competence,” Hadfield continues. “If you’re spending 10 years preparing for one launch, then hopefully by the time it arrives you’ve changed your skill set such that a launch is no longer foreign and unknown. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s exhilarating.”

Like using a bicycle

As Hadfield tells it, astronauts regard area missions the best way most of us regard using a bicycle. “When you don’t know how to do it, it’s scary,” he says. “It makes little kids cry. But eventually you master the skills. Then you can ride the bike, and it’s no longer scary.”

That mindset just about holds true throughout the astronaut corps. It helps clarify why one seldom hears astronauts discuss concern, or concerning the physique depend of their line of work.

Instead, they give attention to the abilities they’ve acquired floating within the simulated zero-g world of the Neutral Buoyancy Lab on the Johnson Space Center in Houston; studying high-speed maneuvers whereas piloting a T-38 jet; or huddling inside NEEMO, an undersea habitat off the Florida Keys. (Hadfield was a commander there, too.)

NASA makes use of such coaching workouts to organize astronauts for almost each foreseeable state of affairs. Of course, some of the issues that inevitably crop up are issues that nobody anticipated.

Image: Chris Hadfield
Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield is close to Canadarm2 as the brand new robotic arm for the International Space Station grasps the Spacelab pallet on mission STS-100.NASA

There was the time when defective sensors prevented Hadfield’s area capsule from docking with Mir, forcing him to improvise a manner in. And the surreal incident in 2013 when Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano’s helmet sprang a leak and he almost drowned throughout a spacewalk exterior the ISS.

Hadfield had a go well with mishap of his personal on a spacewalk in 2001: A bit of chemical defogger that had been utilized to his helmet visor obtained into his eye, inflicting him to tear up so badly that for a few scary moments he was unable to see.

On Hadfield’s closing expedition, the ISS sprang an ammonia leak. “Ammonia is a very nasty chemical that you don’t want to get inside the ship,” he says matter-of-factly. “We had to do an emergency spacewalk on one day’s notice to go out and fix a system that was leaking.”

Fighting danger with experience

Hadfield sees such incidents not as exceptions to his bicycle metaphor however as proof in assist of it. The “competence” he talks about refers to not following a selected set of directions however to a common strategy to drawback fixing that kicks in at any time when it’s wanted.

As for the ammonia leak, “it’s what every member of our crew had been preparing for, for a decade or more: How to get ready for something that is going to push you to your limits, physically and mentally and maybe even tactically, and then summon the reserves to execute it properly,” Hadfield says. “That’s the life of an astronaut encapsulated.”

Hadfield and his crewmates rapidly fastened the leak. Nobody obtained sick, and the incident barely even made the information.

Of course, not all of the crises astronauts face are manageable. Some finish just like the Challenger and Columbia disasters, each of which killed complete area shuttle crews. Surely that should spook the astronauts, proper?

Hadfield acknowledges Challenger and Columbia as proof that death is all the time a risk. But as an alternative of the loss of life, he and his fellow space-flyers centered on constructive classes from the disasters. “We said, ‘What can we learn from these horrific events so that spaceflight will be safer in the future?’”

Image: Chris Hadfield
Chris Hadfield performs a health analysis on the International Space Station on Dec. 12, 2012.NASA

In different phrases, don’t fear about issues you possibly can’t management. Keep working to deal with issues as much as the final doable second. If you die, you die. Ultimately, death is one thing that lies past an astronaut’s management, so in some sense it’s irrelevant. That mindset is an element of what NASA selects for, and half of what astronauts prepare to attain.

The one concern that astronauts can’t vanquish, regardless of how a lot coaching and psychological self-discipline they carry to bear, is the concern skilled by their family and friends. Yet even right here, Hadfield treats the matter as a sequence of variables to be managed.

“I went so far as to invite my wife to attend one of the simulations in which one of the crewmembers dies during launch or on orbit — what we call a ‘contingency sim’ — because I wanted her to see how the process would react to me being killed,” Hadfield says.

The mortal leap to Mars

If the world’s area businesses and rising non-public ventures like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic hold urgent farther into the photo voltaic system, it’s inevitable that some of these contingency simulations will come true.

Life aboard the ISS is harmful, however Earth is simply 240 miles away. Rescue or evacuation is all the time an choice. On a moon base, the dangers can be larger, and larger nonetheless for a mission to Mars. Once the hatch closes, a Mars crew shall be on their very own for a yr or extra.

“Either someone’s going to have to be willing to take a huge risk of failure where the crew is killed, or we’re going to have to spend a huge amount of money on reliability and predictability and redundancy to increase the probability of a safe return to Earth,” Hadfield says.

He can’t vouch for the gear, however he’s nearly preternaturally assured within the crew. As he sees it, that is simply one other software for the system of intense competence that negates concern and minimizes hazard.

“It’s the trade-off of risk, always. What skill sets don’t we have yet? What are the probabilities of things going wrong?” Hadfield ticks off the necessities like he’s making a grocery checklist. “Let’s try and make the best compromise we can. Just as for the space station crews, so we’ll do the same for Mars.”

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