Commander Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut, ex-fighter pilot and now niche author, is there anything he can't do? After a long and illustrious military and space-borne career, Hadfield has turned his hand to writing. The book, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, combines autobiographical elements with would-be advice on decision making and living life to the full. I spoke to Chris about hanging up his space helmet and taking up the writer's pen.
Hello Chris - an over-asked question but how are you finding life back on planet Earth?
It's fine - very pleasant and busy! I was an astronaut for twenty-one years and I completed three space flights. I was also fighter pilot for 21 years, so it's been a huge transition coming back down. I've been very busy since landing - my retirement hasn't exactly involved sitting by the fire with my feet up!It's been a huge physical challenge adjusting to life back in Canada. I was an expat for 26 years, and I've lived in Russia and the US, so although it's not been a conventional retirement, what with working on the book over the Summer and now nearing completion, it's great to be home, and it's been a lot of fun.
You've been described as 'the most social-media savvy astronaut ever to leave Earth'. What do you say to that?
I've been extremely fortunate to have lived at the bottom of the ocean, to have built spaceships and lived on the International Space Station (ISS), and one of my main aims has been to share that experience with as many people as possible. I wanted to let people see the very nature of what we're trying to do, and recent technological advances in social media have allowed a more personal sharing experience in real-time, and it's a great way of conveying information. I've done my best to share my personal and professional experiences, because they're too good to keep to myself! People seem to have an inherent interest in what I've been doing, and I was delighted to see the number of people who've been following what's going on as a direct result of my work.
After such an illustrious career in space, was writing a book about it the next logical step for you?
Yes indeed it was, although in life I tend not to try and move from step-to-step in a linear fashion, but have a lot of parallel paths instead. It was about fifteen years ago that I was approached by a writer who wanted to do a biography on me and on everything that I had done, but I felt at the time that I hadn't actually done anything yet! I also felt that I wanted to do the book myself, so I decided to put the project off for a while. A few years ago I started to write some notes down as an extension of the live, social media side of how I've been telling the story, and that's how it started, really.
Tell me a little more about the book itself? It isn't exactly 'your average autobiography', is it?
No, it's not an autobiography at all! It's rather a collection of selected memories, designed to convey how people can make their own life decisions - but critically it's not a self-help book either. Nor is it a memoir, it's somewhere in between the two!
The book itself offers people different ways of thinking and different ways of making their own decisions. By applying the precepts that I set out in the book, this has allowed me to experience a lot, so I want to share this with other people. The title of the book was no accident, it really does sum up exactly what I'm trying to achieve in writing it - it really is An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth! Hopefully people will find it both entertaining and useful, because that's the idea behind it.
You mentioned when you started writing things down - but when did you start writing the book in earnest?
Whilst I was on orbit I had the chance to speak to some famous people, and one of them was Neil Young. I asked him how he went about writing music, and he told me that he never sets out to write music, he just writes it down. This got me thinking, so I called a friend of mine who has written a book himself and asked how he went about doing it. He told me the first thing I should do was to get an agent, which struck me as surprising, so I was glad I asked! The first time I put pen to paper was several years ago, but I began in earnest two years ago, and it's been non-stop ever since. The book itself was framed out before my final space flight, but so much has happened since May this year that the book's been revised quite a bit, so this summer has been quite hectic, but at the same time very satisfying. I'm really pleased with how the book has come out.
Finally, do you have any plans to write any more?
I've always enjoyed writing; I've spent my life writing mostly technical documents and things. At the moment I'm working on a children's book, and there's going to be a young-adult version of that as well, so I've got that to keep me busy. As long as I can think of original and helpful things to say, I'll always be writing them down, so I'd say yes, I plan on writing a lot more!
An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth by Chris Hadfield is published by Macmillan, hardback £18.99