Former Canadian astronaut and commander of the International Space Station Chris Hadfield has dared young Australians to dream of frontiers beyond Earth and questioned Australia’s lack of a human space program.
The former fighter pilot, who will vist Canberra in August and shot to fame after covering David Bowie’s Space Oddity on the International Space Station, said Canada and Australia share many similarities in their strategic approach to space exploration despite the absence of Australian astronauts.
To become an astronaut, a candidate must be a citizen of a country with a space agency capable of sending humans to space.
“It’s a difficult national choice; if an Australian kid dreams of becoming an astronaut are we going to let him or her remain Australians, or do they have to leave and become Russians or Americans?” he said.
Mr Hadfield, who claims to have produced humanity’s first artistic production in orbit, said he was hired on the same day as former astronaut Andy Thomas who was born and educated in Adelaide, but became a US citizen in 1988 to achieve his goal of space travel.
“Are we also going to give that opportunity to young Australians?” he asked.
“Sure, there’s an expense, but its peanuts compared to a lot of other things we do at a national level.”
The Canadian, who has more than a million followers on Twitter and chronicled his space journey on social media, said establishing a human space program in Australia wouldn’t be as expensive as many people believe.
“The benefits outweigh the costs,” he said.
“On our $5 bill we have a spacewalking astronaut because it’s seen as both as an achievement and as an inspiration.”
“There really are many pluses to it. It’s not such much an issue of training [Australian] astronauts but of having a space agency that includes human space travel as part of it, not just the purely scientific or engineering side.”
Mr Hadfield acknowledged Australia's significant contributions to space exploration, including that of Sydney engineer Warwick Holmes who worked on the Rosetta spacecraft which arrived at a distant comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Thursday.
In the meantime, the man dubbed as a "Canadian national treasure" reflected on his childhood ambition to become an astronaut and offered some words of advice to young Australians who may share his dream.
“I think the key is to recognise the difference between wanting to do something and turning yourself into something,” he said.
“Wanting something is nice, but that doesn’t even take you one step closer.
“It’s about the small incremental decisions of deciding what you what you want to do with your time and where you want to be in 10 years.”
While Mr Hadfield may have retired from space travel it’s clear the thrill of life in orbit is still close to his heart.
“My first spacewalk was the most magnificent experience of my life,” he said
“I’ve lived at the bottom of the ocean and was there for the birth of all three of my kids, but to be outside of a spaceship walking in space, well, everything just pales in comparison.”
The former astronaut believes the many challenges he's faced in space, such as being temporarily blinded while stranded in space outside his shuttle, hold lessons for people who may be afraid of achieving their dreams.
“It’s important to identify the difference between fear and danger, we often get the two concepts muddled and moulded together.”
Mr Hadfield will soon board a plane from Canada to visit Canberra on August 24 and share his tales of space oddities and lessons learned with an audience at Llewellyn Hall.
The former astronaut said he’d seen Australia in great detail while in space but was looking forward to orientating himself with country with his feet on the great.
In March 2013, Hadfield found time in his schedule while onboard the International Space Station to tweet a picture of the national capital.
"If you zoom in you can see the circle around Parliament House," he promised.
Canberra, capital of Australia. If you zoom in you can see the circle around Parliament House. pic.twitter.com/p7V6GOKU— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) January 22, 2013