In the early days of the manned space program being an astronaut made you an instant celebrity. You became famous whether you wanted to or not. LIFE magazine contracts were issued for the first astronauts, and the public eagerly snapped up news tidbits about the space travelers and their families.
While spaceflight never became routine as such new astronauts certainly did, and as the pool of former and current space fliers increased, their name recognition decreased. Every once and a while some of them made the headlines — John Glenn flying again at a ripe old age, Sally Ride, the first female American astronaut, Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle commander. In between — not so much. And once the shuttle fleet was retired all of our astronauts had to hitch a ride with the Russians anyway, and nobody has been beyond low Earth orbit since the end of the Apollo lunar missions.
Granted, there are countless educational programs to get the public and especially children excited about space science but very few of them ever make the news.
Enter Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut and ISS commander.
If you’re around Internet news websites you may have already watched the first music video from outer space: Chris Hadfield’s rendition of the old David Bowie classic “Space Oddity.”
“Ground control to Major Tom…”
Over many months in the tiny snippets of spare time Chris had while living on the ISS he recorded a version of the song with his own acoustic guitar, floating through the space station, singing and playing the instrumental interludes. With the help of terrestrial musicians, arrangers and engineers his song was mixed together to become an instant Internet sensation. Check it out for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo
While getting school kids involved in science is a staple on the ISS a cosmic sing-along is something new. Hadfield teamed up with the band Barenaked Ladies (relax, it’s just a name!) he co-wrote a song and performed it along with frontman Ed Robertson, the band and countless school choirs and assemblies all over the world. Watch the video of “Is Someone Singing? (I.S.S.)” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvAnfi8WpVE
It’s a catchy tune, and the enthusiasm of all those involved is palpable.
So what’s Hadfield’s secret?
There are many ways to get kids — and adults — fired up about science. One way is to share things everybody already knows, like singing songs together, and because of the commonalities the differences become even more pronounced, such as the floating guitar, or planet Earth moving past in the background. Suddenly being an astronaut is cool again. While Hadfield is an astronaut first and foremost he never gave up his other passions of being a musician, an entertainer, an educator and someone who genuinely loves to share the wonders of his job.
Beate Czogalla is the Professor of Theater Design in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Georgia College & State University. She has had a lifelong interest in space exploration and has been a Solar System Ambassador for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/ NASA for many years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org