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.