SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Chris Hadfield went from feeling truly sublime to faintly ridiculous this week. He landed after spending 146 days in space, most as commander of the International Space Station, but says as soon as his Soyuz plunked down on the soil of Kazakhstan, "I could feel the weight of my lips and tongue, and had to change how I was talking. I didn't realize I had learned to talk with a weightless tongue." Chris Hadfield said that after nearly five months of floating, his feet had lost all cushioning and calluses. So on these, his first days back, "I was walking around like I was walking on hot coals."
Mr. Hadfield is 53, a slender and mustachioed former Royal Canadian Air Force colonel, and the first Canadian to command the International Space Station. He may never be mentioned in the same sentence as Yuri Gagarin or Neil Armstrong. But Chris Hadfield has become one of the best-known astronauts of contemporary times because he's shared what he's seen, and felt, with a Twitter following that's grown to almost a million.
And he's used the bay of the International Space Station as a kind of celestial garage, to put on a show. He performed an electronic concert from orbit, playing his guitar and singing with the group Barenaked Ladies and thousands of school students, to encourage young people to love music. He laid down his own rendition of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" - "Earth is blue, and there's nothing I can do" - with the Earth rolling by in a window behind - or is that below? - him. And he snapped a lot of photographs, orbit after orbit - thunderstorms boiling over the Amazon; soft, pearly swirls of ocean around Cape Town; vast mining pits gashed into the red soil of China; and North America's Great Lakes framed in a single shot, tweeting pictures the way a man on vacation might send back shots of both the Lincoln Memorial and a diner with a huge. inflatable doughnut on its roof.
To see his photographs every day, almost every hour, was to be reminded that sunrise and sunset are part of the same master plan. "It's part of our humanity to be in space," he wrote in Russian. And just before plunging back into Earth's atmosphere, he said - in French and English - "I came here on behalf of so many people. Thank you."
Which is why, said Chris Hadfield, it was important for him to send back messages. It's just too good an experience to keep to yourself. Chris Hadfield's most excellent space mission reminded us, in a way, of something human beings can do in space that so far, machines can't - be amazed.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPACE ODDITY")
SIMON: And that is Cmdr. Chris Hadfield. And you're listening to NPR News.
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