I never expected to meet an astronaut. Why would I? At the time of writing, according to Wikipedia, there’s been a grand total of 536 people who’ve gone more than 100km above the planet’s surface. Chances of meeting one of them is pretty slim, especially in Wales.
But all that changed on the morning of 17th December, when sat on the train on the way to work. That’s when I read this tweet:
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) December 17, 2013
The frankly awesome Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut and commander of the International Space Station for a three month stint, was going to be signing copies of his book in Waterstones. In Cardiff. Where I work. I had to go.
Fortunately I wasn’t on my own; m’colleague Sian was going to go over too. Unfortunately we weren’t on our own; a few hundred other people were also going to meet and greet the man who performed Space Oddity in Zero-G. As it turned out, one of them was Sam, another colleague, and another was the always lovely fellow geek Elizabeth. We all waited in line like respectable science fans, bemusing people expecting ‘a big name’ to be there, and bit by bit we got to meet the fella.
It’s not easy to figure out what to say to someone like Commander Hadfield. He’s been a fighter pilot, a test pilot, astronaut on multiple missions, has a better success at spacewalking than Sandra Bullock in Gravity and is an internet legend. Sian was complemented by him on her robot necklace; there’s the smalltalk taken care of. Me, I babbled something about following him on Twitter. Yeah, well done Anderson, dead profound. But I got my book signed to me and my family, posed for a photo and shook hands with a man who has held onto the outside of a space station travelling at about 15000 km/h. And he was a true gent; the most manly man I’ve ever met whilst being not in the least bit macho.
I should add, the grip on his hand was insane. I guess working through muscle wastage after returning to Earth has paid dividends – that or being outside the ISS and holding on tightly – because I could still feel his grip on my hand two days later!
They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes. Maybe you should just be a bit more picky of who your heroes are.