Chris Hadfield's translator: Q&A with Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen

While Chris Hadfield was returning from the International Space Station on Monday night, another Canadian astronaut was offering his own unique play-by-play of the action as the Soyuz capsule plunged to Earth.
Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen, left, served as a crew support astronaut for Chris Hadfield's recent mission and hopes to follow him into space one day. (NASA)

While other Canadians were watching Chris Hadfield return from the International Space Station on Monday night, one Ontario native was offering his own unique play-by-play of the action as the Soyuz capsule plunged to Earth.

"This is the best part," rookie Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen tweeted. "Seeing a good parachute and hearing the crew over the radio."

Hansen was at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, offering his insight as Hadfield, U.S. astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko returned after five months on the ISS.

"You amass a lot of information over your time training here and sometimes you have to step back and think, wow, a lot of people don't realize what’s really going on," Hansen said later during an interview from Houston.

Some of Hansen's twitter insights were scientific, describing gravitational forces that feel like "4 people sitting on your chest" and the "fireworks" of a capsule "about to interface with the atmosphere."

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, left, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and U.S. astronaut Tom Marshburn savour solid ground after landing in Kazakhstan on May 14. (Sergei Remezov/Associated Press)

Other comments from @Astro_Jeremy were more philosophical. "An amazing thing just took place," he tweeted after the tiny, charred capsule crash-landed into the grassy steppes of Kazakhstan. "Three humans just left orbit at 28000km/h and are now sitting safely on the planet!"

Hansen is in a unique position right now: the 37-year-old former fighter pilot served as a crew support astronaut for Hadfield’s mission and hopes one day he'll follow him into space.

Throughout Hadfield’s mission, Hansen, who was born in London, Ont., also hosted live events in several Canadian communities that linked the ISS with Earth.

On the ground this week, Hansen's become something of a space translator, doing interviews with media around the world and offering his explanations via Twitter — he has picked up a few thousand followers since Monday — about Hadfield's return voyage.

In an interview this week, Hansen spoke of what awaits Hadfield, and the inspiration he took from the mission. The interview has been edited and condensed.

CBC News: What’s in store for Chris Hadfield now?

Jeremy Hansen: There’ll be a lot of medical testing that will be done. We want to get all of the medical science we can out of him and then the rehabilitiation. That will happen daily. That's just going to be part of his life for the next little while, getting used to gravity and more getting used to balance and working in gravity. He'll be quite strong. You can tell he's still physically quite strong.

And then the other big time sink if you will, or time commitment that he’s going to have, is the debriefs. We spend a lot of time going over all the aspects of their mission.

That takes weeks to do, both here in the U.S., in Canada and in Russia, and then with the other partner countries as well. That's going to keep Chris pretty busy for about a month and then after that I think what we'll see is more of Chris like we've on station where he'll be finding interesting ways to share his experience and his perspective.

How will he do that?

Hansen: Those are questions that really Chris is the only one who's going to be able to answer. We don't have a long-term, at least I don't know of a longterm plan for Chris. Maybe other people do. But I do know the Canadian Space Agency plans to leverage this opportunity to help teachers across the country. We have more work to do with the National Film Board. For the next while at least, it becomes a lot about outreach. We need to bring this experience home.

Why is that?

Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen admires how Chris Hadfield taught us that we live on 'Spaceship Earth,' that we only have one of them and we have to take care of it and we have to take care of the people on it. (NASA)

Hansen: You really miss out on one of the huge benefits of space exploration if you don't share it around, if you don't share it with humanity. When I really step back and look at it, I think the largest contribution that space exploration makes is the perspective it gives us and we really saw that shine through with Chris Hadfield.

He really taught us that we live on 'Spaceship Earth.' We only have one of them and it's the only one we have the technology to live on right now and we have to take care of it and we have to take care of the people on it. And that's a pretty profound message, I think, for humanity.

When you take a step back and look at humanity and the trends we have, probably the most important thing that will ever be contributed from the space program.

When you look at what Chris Hadfield did during his time on the space station, what do you take from that, personally?

Hansen: I see an astronaut who gave selflessly of himself while he was on the space station, who put not just the mission – which was first and foremost, of course, to make sure the mission was accomplished – but he also put the education and the inspiration of people very high on his priority list and I think that was a really great example for all us.

It's not that you could necessarily ever expect to emulate what happened with Chris Hadfield but it's certainly very motivating to me to see the kind of effect that you can have on humanity and so I will definitely take that with me.

What was the most inspiring element of what you saw?

Chris Hadfield's photos from space captured places around the world and in Canada, including a gyre frozen into the ice off Newfoundland and Labrador on March 22. (Chris Hadfield/Canadian Space Agency/Reuters)

Hansen: I think the most inspiring thing for me was really the message that I heard echo through Chris Hadfield, and him seeminginly become more passionate about throughout his expedition, and that was his perspective of our planet and his respect for this planet that we live on.

That's pretty profound. We just take it for granted. I know I take it for granted. I'll leave this interview and I'll walk outside and I'll forget that I’m standing on a rock in the middle of space and I'll go back to my everyday life and Chris has given us reason to ponder these things and to not take it for granted.

Do you have any other comments about what's in store for him, or for you?

Hansen: There's one other point that I would like to make, especially for Canadians. Right now we have a very small, modest space program, very few astronuats fly in space. But for the younger generations who have been motivated by this, it’s very clear to me that humanity is going to be spending more and more time in space.

We are learning to exist in space, not just visit it, but exist in space and I see us developing these technologies where we're going to be utilizing resources in space and I think that really changes everything. For Canadian youth, they’re going to have the opportunity, more and more, to work in the space industry. That should be motivating for people that are attracted to that.