Ben Kaplan: So honoured for your time today and thanks for talking to KIND. I kind of have you up on a pedestal.
Chris Hadfield: Everybody is just people. We tend to forget that, we tend to one-dimensionalize folks, but everyone is dealing with problems and their personal demons and all that. I’m no different than anyone else.
BK: When you close your eyes and think about where you've been, what's the most beautiful image you see?
CH: Onboard an orbiting space ship, you go blisteringly fast: 8K-per-second. It means you race around the world in 92 minutes, every 46 minutes the sun sets and rises. The most unbelievably beautiful thing is to fly around the curve of our earth coming out of the darkness and forcing the sunrise, the earth at night is a purplish ghost of a glow of the atmosphere—just sort of visually humming around the world in the darkness. To the north and the south is Aurora, but the rest is this purple haze over the world as you drive towards the sunrise and the suns’ rays catch the upper atmosphere, it happens super fast because of the speed—the colour just pours in as if someone was pouring a rainbow onto the horizon.
BK: That sounds amazing.
CH: It goes from blackness to the world enveloped in colour—the sun explodes in front of you and, because you’re by a spaceship window there’s nothing between you and the sun except a couple of pains of glass, the heat and radiant power is an onslaught of the sun.
BK: I want to see that.
CH: Out in space, you get sixteen of those a day.
BK: Do you remember when you knew your destiny would be out amongst the stars?
CH: The summer of ’69, when Neil and Buzz walked on the moon, July 20.
BK: You’re a kid and you’re thinking, wow, that’s the coolest job in the world?
CH: I remember staying up late and watching them land, open the hatch and walk outside. I’d already been reading comic books, watching Star Trek and I’d seen 2001: A Space Odyssey and all of that was underpinned by the reality of those Apollo astronauts solving all of these problems and walking on the moon.
BK: What did that make you feel?
CH: That night I decided to start turning myself into the adult I wanted to be to start making decisions so that someday someone might trust me to fly a spaceship. It gave me a set of rules for my life—what should I do this weekend, what should I eat, what skills must I learn if I want to walk on the moon? That night gave me a litmus test for all my decisions and that’s how I’ve conducted my whole life. It started the summer when I turned ten.
BK: Summer is just the best time for experiencing the cosmos. What advice would you give KIND readers who want to look up to the sky?
CH: NASA has on its site SpottheStation, and it’s a great portal where you put in where you live and it tells you when to go outside and watch the International Space Station. The ISS is a visual, needed reminder of what we can accomplish when we do things together—fifteen countries of the world, including Russia, working together, peacefully, exploring the universe as we’ve done for decades, despite the stupid decisions we make on earth’s surface.
BK: That space station is mindblowing.
CH: After the sun and the moon, it’s the third brightest thing in the sky. I think we should all make time to watch it and think about the souls inside and what we’re all part of.
BK: That’s such a positive message, feeling connected to the global community.
CH: I think another really positive feeling, especially in a place like Canada with strong seasons, is to get away from the things that fill up your life and drive you crazy, the noise of the day, and go for a long walk in nature—notice what’s around you, each blade of grass, and think about the rejuvenating nature of seasons and remind yourself how this planet actually works and how life works. There’s been life uninterrupted on Earth for 4-billion years and we can feel self-important, that we’ve ruined this planet, but Earth’s withstood much worse than us—huge cataclysmic events—and life is still here. We’re still here.
BK: You journey to the stars to feel connected to the people on Earth.
CH: I think this summer, once we look up, we should also look down then look into the mirror and think about what’s important to you and then turn those dreams to reality. How can I be doing the stuff to make the changes I want to see? How do you change yourself and be part of something noble, bigger than you, that serves as a citizen of the planet? This summer, take action. Life is not what you set out to do, it’s what you choose to do next.
CH: Carl Saggat said, ‘We’re all stardust,’ and that’s the truth. We tend to think the cosmos and the world are separate, but I’ve been around the world 2,650 times and we are the cosmos—this is our Eden, love your home.
BK: Part of loving our home is providing for its inhabitants. Not a bad transition to let you talk about your work at BioHarvest.
CH: One of the biggest threats we face as a species is how do you feed ten billion people? We’re approaching eight billion and, looking at the birth and death rate, we’ll probably peak around ten. So far, we’re feeding eight billion and, looking at quality of life, nutrition, infant mortality, we’ve never been this successful, but we’re doing it on 10,000-year-old agricultural practices. Think about that.
BK: It’s a little bit dated.
CH: The oldest person in the world is 119-years-old. She was born in 1903, the same year the Wright brothers first flew. In one life, we went from the Wright brothers to where we are now. The Industrial Revolution worked great, but it’s unsustainable. I want to feed people in a sustainable way and that’s BioHarvest. How can technology improve the quality of life of ten billion people in an efficient way?
BK: You’re isolating the bits of the plants that are most beneficial and then growing them at scale?
CH: It’s biotechnology extraction, and it uses less power, less land, and less water than traditional farming, which of course I respect and certainly understand since I grew up on a farm.
BK: At KIND, of course, we got excited when we heard you talking about weed.
CH: All the potheads got excited, and it’s cool, it’s not illegal. I’m interested in the medicinal health application for the active ingredients in cannabis for things like pain reduction, anxiety reduction and PTSD treatments. I don’t know if you’ve ever grown pot, but it’s hard.
BK: Why, have you grown pot?
CH: No, I’ve never grown pot, but I grew up on a farm and grew lots of things. Pot is just one more plant.
BK: Have you tried it?
CH: I served in the military for 25 years and was an astronaut for 21 years and things that decrease your ability to function in highly technological environments? Not a good idea.
BK: So, no rolling blunts?
CH: It’s never been part of my life, but my kids obviously … and lots of people around us. I think it’s fine, it’s legal, it’s just part of society. It’s like coming out of prohibition, like people thought alcohol is all bad—even though lots of people were drinking alcohol. Friends of mine have a cottage and there was a prohibition judge from Detroit who spent most of the year punishing people for having alcohol and then he’d go up to his cottage in the Muskokas so he could have alcohol all summer.
CH: People are just like that.
BK: What do you think, in your lifetime, is the holy grail for our next frontier in space?
CH: The big question is: are we alone?
CH: Think about the sheer overwhelming number of planets and the enormity of time. It would seem to indicate a high probability that there’s life somewhere else.
BK: There has to be.
CH: But the reality is we’ve found zero evidence.
BK: But do you think there is?
CH: It’s a big existential question. Discovering a new life form could add to our understanding of life itself, and think of it the other way. If we can’t find life anywhere else, that should redouble our efforts to support this rarity—this incredible improbability of events that happened. If we’re the only evidence of life, let alone intelligent life, that we can detect anywhere, then we have a huge responsibility not to squander it and not argue about the stupid things we tend to argue about.
BK: Be kind to each other, exactly.
CH: The other thing I’m interested in is how, when I was born, it was impossible to fly into space, but now we’ve successfully had people living on a space station since 2000. Having human life living in places other than Earth is the next logical step and the moon is obviously the next stepping stone.
BK: Human beings colonizing the moon.
CH: We left Africa maybe 80,000 years ago. We got to the Americas maybe 18,000 years ago, New Zealand 1,000 years ago and got to space 60 years ago. People don’t equate that to the future, but we’re on the cusp of being able to live on a planet besides Earth—and the moon is only three days away.
BK: Something to dream about.
CH: It’s what I dreamed about. We’re on the cusp of doing stuff we’ve been imaging before history was even written, right now. This summer, look up at the sky and focus on how lucky we are to live where we live.