Even spacemen struggle with re-entry

Even spacemen struggle with re-entry

Commander Chris Hadfield

I read an article a few days ago about astronaut Chris Hadfield, who became the first Canadian to command the International Space Station this past December. Although he’s been to space twice before, this latest mission was his longest ever: nearly five months.

Commander Hadfield has been under the microscope since his return on the Soyuz spacecraft on May 13, as NASA scientists assess how his body is readapting to life on earth. What struck me in the interview with the Globe and Mail are the similarities between this interplanetary repatriate and those of us whose to-do lists on re-entry didn’t include “become reacquainted with gravity.”

For example, the accepted wisdom in the repatriation world is that expats who adjust well to their host culture and become more fully integrated often have the hardest time readjusting when they return home. This is something Commander Hadfield is experiencing.

“It’s very different this time,” he acknowledged. “I think that’s because … I was truly adapted to being a creature living in weightlessness, and that never happened on my previous two flights. This time the physical toll [on return] is much higher. The re-adaptation of my balance system is taking time.”

Stop me if I’m stretching here, but I know what he means; I felt off-balance most of my first year as a repat. Okay, maybe it’s not quite the same thing — I was able to stand up without my blood pressure crashing and my stomach lurching, after all — but emotional and cognitive disorientation is a big issue on re-entry, even without the added complication of gravitational problems. And although I’ve never been to space, I can certainly relate when he says he’s constantly groggy, “like I’ve just stepped off a roller coaster at the CNE [Canadian National Exhibition, an annual fair in Toronto].

One more thing before I let the man readjust in peace: just before leaving the International Space Station last week, the multitalented Chris Hadfield released his rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, shot entirely in space. It’s beautiful — check it out.

And welcome home, Commander.

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About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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12 Responses to Even spacemen struggle with re-entry

  1. Heather NW says:

    The repatriation titled “Reentry” uses the astronaut model to explain how bumpy the return to earth is… Author’s last name is Jordan. Excellent read! Highly recommend for any one working with repatriating families.

    • Heather NW says:

      Ha… Repatriation BOOK! Commenting on a mobile device takes some getting used to…

      • Maria says:

        I’ve read the book, and I found it helpful. The full title is Re-entry: Making the transition from missions to life at home. It’s aimed at missionary families, but the core messages apply to everyone. Thanks Heather.

  2. Heather NW says:

    And the video is stinkin’ cool!!!

    Can I say stinkin’?

  3. Saw the video and love it. I find it interesting that those who integrate more fully and build a ‘real time’ life (in lieu of either a ‘set apart’ life, or even worse, a ‘holding pattern’ life) have the hardest time re-integrating. I would think if you have a sense of what’s going on (re culture shock, transitions, loss, etc.), make the effort on both sides of the transitions, and treat the repatriation just as you would entry into a new culture, you’ll be better off. Lots to discuss 🙂

  4. Naomi Hattaway says:

    Great video! Coolest thing ever! I have been avoiding the reality of the bumps of repatriation because I already am finding that the process is much harder than the expatriation ever was. Gulp.

    • Maria says:

      Look at it this way: at least you don’t have to deal with bone loss and vertigo like the astronauts do. Does that make you feel any better?

  5. Gallivanta says:

    Just reading your profile info. Made me smile. I am a TCK, was an expatriate for decades, grounded for the past 13 years and still trying to find my place in the world. It’s a journey without end I think. Lovely to read your blog.

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