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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Commander Chris Hadfield

Canadian astronaut, passionate Maple Leafs fan discusses Toronto's Stanley Cup hopes

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs throughout the 2018-19 regular season. We talk to key figures in and around the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the most recent news.

The latest edition features Commander Chris Hadfield, the 59-year-old Canadian astronaut and lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan who was named an honorary member of the NHL Alumni Association at its annual awards gala in Toronto on Oct. 22.

TORONTO -- Lurking not deeply in Commander Chris Hadfield, a brilliant scientist, aviator and space pioneer, is a delicious sense of humor.

Ask him his favorite space movie and he won't say, "2001: A Space Odyssey," "The Right Stuff," "Apollo 13," or "First Man," the Neil Armstrong biopic that he hadn't seen when we sat for a talk Oct. 22.

"Galaxy Quest," Hadfield said, saying he'll watch the "Star Trek" spoof from 1999 starring Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver any time he finds it on television.

Hadfield is legendary for his career as a test pilot, riding rockets, walking in space, broadening the horizons of science aboard the International Space Station, in astronautic administration, and now back on Earth as a best-selling author and motivational speaker. During his most recent time on the ISS, on one of his 2,336 orbits of the globe between Dec. 19, 2012 and May 13, 2013, covering roughly 62 million miles, he became a rock star for his zero-gravity rendition of David Bowie's 1969 classic "Space Oddity," the video of his performance viewed more than 41 million times.

Watch: Youtube Video

But whether on Earth or more than 200 miles above it, Hadfield has a burning love of the Toronto Maple Leafs in his heart.

Here are Five Questions with … Commander Chris Hadfield:


How good a hockey player were you as a kid, what position did you play, and who's your favorite player all-time?

Awful. I was a terrible hockey player. I was a downhill ski racer, I raced and taught racing. But hockey, we played on the pond on the Southern Ontario farm where I grew up. I played in an intramural league once and all someone had to do was touch me and I'd fall down. I love watching hockey, but I can only dream. What position? Sometimes upright. My all-time favorite player is (Maple Leafs legend) Dave Keon. No doubt, no change. I thought he exemplified integrity, great skill, a real good work ethic, a closed mouth and an open mind. Just sort of a selflessness. He inspired me with the way he played, and he still does.


Three times you were launched into space, twice on the space shuttle, once aboard the Soyuz to the International Space Station. Twice you've walked in space, the first Canadian to do so, and you sang "O Canada" at Scotiabank Arena before the Maple Leafs-Montreal Canadiens game on Jan. 8, 2014. Compare the stress levels?

The most dangerous thing I've done in my life is fly three rocket ships, by far. Risk of death per second outstrips anything else, by far, so that puts everything else in perspective. Spacewalks are dangerous but they're also wonderfully rare and amazingly beautiful. You feel like you're just witness to tremendous privilege, doing a spacewalk. You know the risks are higher. But a launch? That's crazy. Singing the national anthem? That's just a joy, just fun. There's no risk to that at all. You're just going to join 20,000 people singing the anthem. That's a great moment. Everyone should get the chance to do that at a Leafs-Canadiens game here in Toronto.


Many talk about the fury and intensity of a Stanley Cup Playoff game, and the energy in an arena when the home team wins. Is there any way any of us can comprehend the raw power and brute energy of a rocket launch?

No. Because the more you know about what's happening around you, the more you understand the incredible risk that's involved, the power that's needed and therefore the attempt to harness that power. The craziness of it. The willingness to take a tremendous personal risk in order to put yourself in a position to accomplish something that you think is infinitely worthwhile. To me that's the very essence of life. But very few people willingly step into that type of risk as part of their job. It's maybe best measured by the fact that when we go to work and climb into a spaceship and launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, half a million people would come to watch government employees do their job. (laughs)

Astronauts are not thrill-seekers at all. We are people who are willing to take a very carefully considered and highly measured risk in order to accomplish something that otherwise would be impossible. You are intensely aware of the unbelievable power of this machine that's around you. You can feel it viscerally. You cognitively know it from all of your years of preparation and you have a huge part in flying it, and in saving your own life if things go wrong, but the straight Tyrannosaurus rex jaw's shaking of you, the sense that you are so tiny in an enormity of power, you really get a feeling of being dwarfed by the unforgiving, uncaring power of this thing. It's an interesting place to be.


Chris Hadfield (center) with Hockey Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier (left) and Ed Olczyk at NHL Alumni Awards Gala in Toronto on Oct. 22.


You returned to Earth from the International Space Station in a crew of three most recently May 13, 2013, undocking in the Soyuz capsule one minute after puck-drop in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Boston Bruins and the Maple Leafs. During your re-entry, Toronto would go up 4-1 early in the third period but ultimately lose 5-4 in overtime. You touched down in the steppes of Kazakhstan 26 minutes after Patrice Bergeron's winning goal was scored. If the Leafs are eliminated while you're not on Earth and out of radio contact, does it count?

(Laughs) The Leafs also went down in flames that night. I knew the game was going on and I listened to the preamble before I got in the Soyuz. But I was the pilot. It's a huge task, there's all sorts of things we have to do to safely get back to Earth. I hadn't flown the Soyuz in five months so you're really focused. But in the back of my mind I was thinking about the Leafs. I also wondered, 'How can I best support my Leafs while I'm doing this?' So under my Russian spacesuit I was wearing my Leafs T-shirt, which is completely against the rules but I figured it's the best I could do. Just like all those players, I was sweating into my T-shirt coming down, hoping they'd do OK.

We came thumping down on a windy day into the plains of Kazakhstan, the vehicle rolls to a stop, I'm hanging from the ceiling, they roll it the right way, I'm the third and last to come out, after Tom (Marshburn) and Roman (Romanenko). You can walk OK but they carry you because they want to prolong your adaptation as long as possible so they can gather as much medical data as they can, and that's fine. They plunk me down in a chair, give me a cup of tea, loosen my collar and then they hand me a satellite phone to talk to my wife and tell her I was OK. I said, "Helene, how are you? I'm back, it all worked out great." She said, "That's wonderful." I said, "How did the Leafs do?" And she said, "Oh, I'm sooooooo sorry." Oh well. So be it.


You were 7-years-old in the spring of 1967, the last time the Maple Leafs had a Stanley Cup parade. How close is Leafs Nation to having another one?

Yes, the last one was before we first walked on the moon (laughs). We're a really impressive team this year. We score like nobody else. I wish we had a defense that could stop like nobody else, but we have some really smart people who know a lot more about hockey than I do and they've decided to set up this team this way. So far we're winning more than our share of games so that's interesting to watch. We have some skilled players and a mix of experience and inexperience that is pretty impressive. It's been fun to watch. When you fly a spaceship, if the only part of it you like is launch or a spacewalk or the landing, then you've missed the entire experience. If the only part of hockey that you like is the moment that your team wins the Stanley Cup, then you've missed a lot of the experience as well. That's not just a long-suffering Leafs fan talking.

I love how the game is played, the way people have to push themselves to a physical demonstration of skills and ability that is unbelievable, and you see it every game. The Leafs now are wonderful to watch. I have season tickets, and every night I'm in town when the Leafs are playing, I'm there. And as an added bonus I think they have a good shot of making it a long way this year. It's by no means a stretch to think that they have a shot at winning the whole thing. Just don't wait to the end to celebrate the magnificence that's going on.

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