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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 February 2019

Astronaut describes life in space

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield says the Sheikh Khalifa highway can be seen from space, unlike the Great Wall of China.
Chris Hadfield, probably the most famous astronaut since Neil Armstrong, tells guests at Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed’s Ramadan majlis of his adventures in space. Donald Weber / Crown Prince Court – Abu Dhabi
Chris Hadfield, probably the most famous astronaut since Neil Armstrong, tells guests at Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed’s Ramadan majlis of his adventures in space. Donald Weber / Crown Prince Court – Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI // The Sheikh Khalifa motorway cannot really be compared to the Great Wall of China. After all, one is an ancient landmark known the world over, while the other is a modern, four-lane road – but only one is visible from space.

Contrary to popular belief, the Great Wall cannot be seen from space, whereas the motorway that links Dubai and Fujairah, most certainly can.

“You cannot see the Great Wall, even from orbit, it is too thin and the colour is like the dirt,” said Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, adding that the wide lanes of the 45km road make it easy to spot. And he should know, having been to space three times since 1995.

Mr Hadfield, described as “the most famous astronaut since Neil Armstrong” because of his popularity on social media and his rendition of David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity”, attended Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed’s Ramadan majlis earlier this week, where he described his experiences of travelling from Earth to spend time among the stars, and the dangers that come with it.

His first space experience was on board the Space Shuttle Atlantis mission to the Mir space station. He was also commander of the International Space Station for three months last year,

“You wake up that morning after years of preparation, from dreams of childhood to decades of study. You wake up, go to the suit-up room – same room I saw on TV when I was a kid. It is a bomb that you sit on. It is an interesting experience to wake up that day because when you might weigh less or you might be dead.”

The ultimate thrill for astronauts is leaving their shuttle or station for space walk. Mr Hadfield was lucky enough to experience this twice. “We don’t go out of the space shuttle for no reason because it is very dangerous. You have one hand out to the world and one hand closely holding the shuttle wall.”

Life inside the station poses its own unique challenges for the crew, with even mundane tasks requiring extra attention.

“If you spill water here it is predictable what would happen, but in space it just floats all around you,” said Mr Hadfield, adding even burping in space is a challenge. “If you try to burp in space you will throw up. Try to stand head down and burp.”

But there is still time for fun while in orbit. “You can do as many somersaults as you want. You can tumble, roll.”

Mr Hadfield and his five-man crew spent four-and-half years training to fly the Soyuz TMA-07Ms spacecraft for a six month mission to the ISS.

“It [the Soyuz] is a much smoother ride because it is smaller so sneaks faster through the atmosphere. We are the last people on Earth and for each other no matter what fails.”

It was while he was on board the International Space Station that he sung “Space Oddity”. “It is important to engage the public and arouse their interest to follow the human side of such missions,” said Mr Hadfield. “So eventually they will follow the technological side of things being done.”

Mr Hadfield said he has been impressed with the fledgling space agency and toured the YahSat programme in Abu Dhabi.

hdajani@thenational.ae

Updated: July 23, 2014 04:00 AM

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