I first discovered Chris Hadfield around the same time as just about everyone else. I had seen some of his pictures of Dublin and Ireland from space, and I began following him online and kept track of what he was posting. He shared some incredible things with us, from pictures of his view of the world from space to youtube videos on how to brush your teeth in zero gravity. I found him very interesting, and so did everyone else, which is why he remains so popular even back on earth.
When Commander Hadfield came to Ireland in December to sign copies of his book An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, an event that I had been planning to go to for months in advance, I was in work. So, my sister went into town, got a book for herself and for me and queued for hours around the side of Easons in the wind and the rain, alongside hundreds of other people, so that she could have the book signed for me.
Recently when it comes to reading I've not been the best at keeping it up. I've started so many books and I have so many more that I've intended to start reading. But this book I read straight away, and I continued to read it straight through over the next few weeks without drifting off towards something else. The reason is it's one of the most interesting books I've ever read.
I wasn't really sure what to expect. I suppose I thought it would just be like any other autobiography – an account of their life and their career up to the point that they're at now. Essentially, that's what it is. But it's also so much more. Reading this book has taught me so many things about Chris Hadfield, about what it is like to be an astronaut, about the logistics behind becoming an astronaut and travelling to space, about hard work and perseverance, but most importantly, I think it's taught me something about myself. Every situation faced by Hadfield is met by determination and a willingness to do whatever needs to be done to continue on, even if the odds of achieving your final goal are against you.
He talks you through the mindset of an astronaut faced with any situation, teaches you how to think like an astronaut to successfully overcome or "work the problem". Reading this I started to realise that everything he says can be applied to any situation. You don't have to be sitting on a launchpad counting down until you're blasted to space to know that there's ways you can work efficiently under pressure. Any advice he gives for that situation can equally be applied to the 5 exams I have to sit this month. And you don't have to be one of 5,329 applicants for a position as an astronaut to understand the importance of remaining focused and being prepared even if there's a chance you may not end up exactly where you expected to be.
I am one of quite a smaller number of people applying for my year abroad in Canada. The university that is my top choice is a popular one this year. I can relate every bit of Hadfield's astronaut application process to my own study abroad process, however insignificant it may seem in comparison to his mission, if you'll pardon the pun. I'm determined to secure my place at my top choice but willing to accept that I may end up at a different university. It's all the same stuff, just on a smaller scale.
I think that this book is a reminder that if you have a goal in life, the best thing you can do is to keep working towards it, stay focused and always try to do what you can to bring yourself closer. It doesn't really matter what it is, so long as it's important to you. In 1969 when Chris Hadfield decided he wanted to become an astronaut at the age of 9 it was an idea that was, at the time, quite impossible. The important thing is that from that day on, even though the likelihood was that it would never happen, he set about planning his life around this ultimate goal, and did everything he could that could get himself closer and then one day, it became possible. If he gave up all those years before and just said "nah, it'll never happen", then it wouldn't have happened. But he didn't, and it did.
There are always going to be obstacles in your way. You might see a future for yourself that seems so unlikely that you tell yourself to snap out of it and get on with the real world. But that doesn't mean that you can't keep doing things, even small things, that could lead you there. Some day, the future you want for yourself might become your real world.
Stranger things have happened. People have been to space.
I leave you with this comic from Zen Pencils, who turned a quote from Chris Hadfield, which basically sums up all this post has been about, into this incredible comic: