Chris Hadfield marked his handover of command of the International Space Station with a remarkable performance of David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Paul Owen runs through the tweeting astronaut’s greatest hits.
- Colonel Chris Hadfield handed over command of the International Space Station yesterday, and to mark the occasion posted a remarkable performance of David Bowie’s Space Oddity in which he and his guitar float around the space station in a most peculiar way – just the way, in fact, that Bowie might have envisaged when he wrote the 1969 hit.
Hadfield will fly back to earth today in a Russian Soyuz space capsule – a reference to which he shoehorned into his version of Space Oddity – and will land in Kazakhstan around 3pm BST.
The Canadian astronaut has become a social media sensation since arriving at the space station in December and starting to tweet away from over 200 miles above the globe. “Brilliant insight into every schoolboy’s dream,” wrote Liam Rudden on Twitter, while on YouTube conner sup commented wistfully: “i wish u were my dad,” perhaps indicative of two elements of Hadfield’s appeal.
The Bowie video has caused a storm, with jokey conspiracy theories already doing the rounds,
one YouTube user criticising Hadfield’s interpretation of the song as being overly literal (correct, but a trifle harsh, considering), and the whole episode causing some confusion on BBC Radio 4’s often culturally-leaden-footed Today programme this morning; presenters Justin Webb and John Humphrys were unable to tell whether Hadfield or Bowie was singing, and Humphrys referred in passing to the singer’s daughter Zowie Bowie (actually his son, the film director now known as Duncan Jones).
Bowie himself tweeted this response:
Hadfield has been tweeting his trip to the ISS since he set off, kissing his wife and playing a song before he left.
A few days after arriving he tweeted these pictures colleagues took of his Soyuz spacecraft docking,
as well as this one of the ship in its bay afterwards, and as soon as he had settled in he proceeded to inform readers of his delight at finding his name on a locker and give them an insight into how the astronauts celebrated Christmas:
Providing an insight into life on board the ISS – the human outpost in orbit around the earth which has been occupied since 2000 – has been one of Hadfield’s key achievements over the last five months.
He has shown readers how closets work in space, how astronauts play Scrabble (“easy to lose the little pieces!”) and given them a view of the private SpaceX Dragon capsule that docked with the space station to deliver supplies in March.
Clearly seeing part of his role as educational, Hadfield has posted videos of Q&As with students, shown off the space station telescope and its “robonaut”, taken photos of astronauts’ recent repair-job spacewalk, and tweeted about their science experiments, at one point asking readers to suggest their own ideas for the astronauts to work on, at another posting a video explaining how a study of particles in liquid works.
Many of his tweets and posts have revolved around how he and his colleagues get by in a world without gravity. Hadfield’s video explainingcrying in space is fascinating: “Your eyes will definitely cry in space , but the big difference is: tears don’t fall … So grab a hanky,” he notes.
Mixed nuts jostle for position and try to make a break for it as soon as their canister is opened, while a weightless hockey puck blows Hadfield’s mind.
But another part of the appeal of Hadfield’s posts comes from his extremely beautiful and in many ways unique pictures of the earth from space, which often – as in the case of these irrigation farms in Egypt – form surreal or abstract works of art.
Australia seems particularly fertile ground for such expressionism:
and I also loved these images if Utah’s Great Salt Lake,
the bay area around San Francisco,
this unknown location,
and New York glinting as if it were made of gold.
By contrast, some of his other pictures seem to demand a political reading – for example this one of the border of Egypt, Israel and the Gaza Strip:
and this image of a tranquil-looking Syria:
The moon over the earth
and the northern lights above the UK are two of his photographs which could not have been taken from anywhere else. (Here he is at work with his camera.)
Part of Hadfield’s charm is his sense of humour – I liked this exclamation mark and this fish-shaped island, while here he can be seen in full-on Star Trek mode (the laser weapons are actually “pressure sensors for the toilet”).
And he’s an old romantic too …
Space Oddity was not the first song Hadfield had performed on the ISS’s acoustic guitar (he brought new strings up from earth for the instrument,his brother said). In December Hadfield posted what he said was some of the first original music “written for and performed on” the ISS – an acoustic guitar tune called Jewel in the Night. (I’m afraid it’s not quite as good as Space Oddity.) He has also posted this recording of the ambient noise of the ISS – which is pretty loud.
This morning, Hadfield was posting again, writing that he was supposed to be sleeping in to rest for today’s flight home, but was finding it hard to lie in.
He then posted this picture of delicate clouds over the Black Sea:
Reader Mike Taylor spoke for many of his 800,000 followers in response: