Chris Hadfield: What I learned from going blind in space


Chris Hadfield  is a retired Canadian astronaut who was the first Canadian to walk in space. An Engineer and former Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot, Hadfield has flown two space shuttle missions and served as commander of the International Space Station.


Colonel Chris Hadfield starts his talk with a question for the audience. What is the scariest, most dangerous thing you’ve ever done and why did you do it?

For Chris, it was going into space. The odds of crashing during the first shuttle launches were 1/9. When you wake up on launch day, you know that at the end of the day you’ll either be floating or you’ll be dead. After takeoff there’s 8min and 40sec of intense, intense pressure, equivalent to someone pouring cement on you. And then you’re weightless. For Chris it was worth the risk. At age 9, watching other people walk on the moon, he made the decision to become an astronaut.

While in space, Chris went out on his first spacewalk, watching the earth “roar silently with colors and textures”. Suddenly his left eye slammed shut, but he ignored it and kept working. But because tears don’t fall in space, the ball of residue and tears slowly moved across the bridge of his nose and into his right eye. His right eye slammed shut. He was completely blind, standing outside, floating through space.

Once again, Chris humorously asks, what is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

A lot of people are afraid of spiders, he says. Take the brown recluse, for example. Definitely scary, but is it dangerous? In Canada, only 1 of the 729 species of spiders are venomous. And that species has bright colored markings and builds its webs on the ground for your convenience. So when we flail around after walking into a spider web, what is the justification? The spider is likely no more of a threat to you than a ladybug. The danger is entirely different than the fear. So next time you see a spiderweb, walk through it. Walk through 100 more spiderwebs and Chris guarantees you’ll fundamentally change your behavioral pattern.

Now apply that logic to everything else you’re afraid of. In training for spacewalks, Chris went through every possible scenario that could happen, effectively eliminating the instinctive response to panic. Instead Chris just went through the possibilities and was easily able to communicate to his partner to pull him back.  By understanding the difference between perceived danger and actual danger, you can go to places and see things that otherwise would be denied to you. In preparing to accomplish his goal of space travel, Chris learned how to reprogram his primal fears..

Chris ends his talk by playing and singing a part from the David Bowie song “Space Oddity”.

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