Astronaut inspires students to aim high

  • April 13, 2011
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield addresses students at Marshall McLuhan Catholic High School April 11. Hadfield shared his experiences of space travel and preparations for his next mission in 2013. (Photo by Sheila Dabu Nonato)TORONTO - Hearing Col. Chris Hadfield’s space odyssey, students at a midtown Toronto high school say they were inspired to aim high to achieve their goals.

Seventeen-year-old Marshall McLuhan Catholic High School student Eric Zucchetto was one of more than 1,000 cheering students who heard about the Canadian astronaut’s adventures in space at an April 11 school assembly.

Zucchetto said he was struck by Hadfield’s determination to succeed. And just as Hadfield has made Canada proud through his achievements in space, the Grade 12 student said he wants to do likewise on the soccer pitch.

“I want to represent Canada, too, just like how he represented Canada as an astronaut,” Zucchetto said.

And Andrew Verok, 17, said Hadfield “inspires you to live your dream. He’s living the dream of other people.”

Students cheered on Hadfield, who is set to launch into space next year aboard the Russian Soyuz Spacecraft as part of a mission aboard the International Space Station. In March 2013, Hadfield will become the first Canadian to command the station during the second portion of his six-month stay in space. This will be his third space mission, having previously flown on the space shuttle in 1995 and again in 2001.

Hadfield showed students a slideshow of photos he had taken while he was in space, including a view of Toronto. He also showed photos of Japan before and after the March 11 tsunami and earthquake, which drew gasps from the crowd.

Hadfield, 52, is a father of three children. Raised on a corn farm in Milton, Ont., Hadfield studied mechanical engineering at Royal Military College and has a Master of Science in aviation systems from the University of Tennessee. In 2001, Hadfield was the first Canadian to walk in space while installing the Canadarm 2 in orbit. He is the only Canadian to board the Russian Space Station Mir.

The students had plenty of questions for Hadfield during his visit. Among them was what do astronauts do when they’re in space? Among other things, they conduct several experiments, including the study of astronauts’ brain waves, he told them. And to fight the lack of gravity, astronauts must also exercise.

“It’s a wicked environment,” Hadfield recalled. “You get hit by meteorites all the time.”  

One student asked Hadfield what was the “coolest” thing he has done in space. Hadfield said it was the space walk. That led to his recollection of a harrowing suit malfunction where Hadfield had to contend with a bulb of contamination growing and stinging his eyes because, in a zero gravity environment, tears are unable to form to flush out the contamination. It took 30 minutes to resolve the problem.

Meanwhile, a teacher asked how faith affects astronauts.

“It’s something we talk about, of course,” Hadfield said. “We talk about what does that mean to us and our own private faiths.

“You don’t get to do something as hard and magical as this without a fundamental belief system,” he said. Astronauts who have different faiths can develop the “same wonder” about the universe, humanity and “what our place is.”

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