Astronaut Chris Hadfield on Settling Space: ‘It Won’t Go as Planned’
Hadfield in the Cupola of the ISS in 2013, at the controls of Canadarm2. Image: NASA


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Astronaut Chris Hadfield on Settling Space: ‘It Won’t Go as Planned’

The former ISS Commander weighs in on what skills we’ll need as we expand into space.

As the first Canadian astronaut to helm the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield has done a lot of thinking about what it will take for humans to live in space long-term. NASA, Russia, China and even Elon Musk's SpaceX are talking about sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, and—given that it's Canada's 150th anniversary, a good time to take stock of where we're going—we were curious about how this country can contribute to humanity's future in space.


MOTHERBOARD: What skills does a leader need to manage astronauts at a future space settlement?
Chris Hadfield: From a pure leadership point-of-view, I think you need, above all, technical competence. You can't get help from anyone. You get advice, but it's not the same. The second is—under the broad brush of interpersonal skills—what are the strengths and weaknesses of a group of human beings [you are managing], and how you can help them face the issues, no matter what?

You also need great patience, because it [the mission] is going to take a long time and it won't go as planned.

What skills do astronauts need generally to set up a civilization in space?
In a small group like that, unless there's a problem, it's a very flat command structure. It's not like you got one person with all the answers and all the ideas. You need a group of people where anyone can step up and be the leader, or is willing to step down and be the follower. There can't be any passengers on board—everybody has to be committed and motivated.

Flight engineers Tom Marshburn (left) and Chris Cassidy complete an unplanned spacewalk during Hadfield's expedition to the ISS to repair the cooling system. Image: NASA

What skills are needed today in the Canadian astronaut corps?
You need a healthy body and people who have a proven record of staying in shape. You need somebody with a depth of ability. When NASA hired Neil Armstrong [first man on the Moon in 1969], we were not expecting he was going to have to seize control of Eagle [his landing ship] and start looking around for a place to land because there were boulders where they intended to go.

You also need someone who has proven themselves in the real world. That's why we chose [Canadian astronauts] Jeremy Hansen, already proven as one of the top F-18 pilots, or David Saint-Jacques, who was a physician in the far North and made life and death decisions on his own.

What Canadian technology would be useful for space settlements?
Canada doesn't own every service in the world, so we offer what inherent capabilities we have. There's artificial intelligence and machine intelligence at the University of Toronto. We've also used robotics since the very beginning, because of a combination of government and private investment. Our other natural strengths are remote sensing and long-range communication, because of our large empty areas.

What gaps do we have in our current capabilities?
The Emerson Report was right on the money. [Editor's note: This was a report issued in 2012 criticizing Canada for its small space budget, and urging the country to join with commercial space ventures.] The previous [Stephen Harper] government did the easiest recommendations. The hard stuff is now falling on the shoulders of the current [Justin Trudeau] government. If you really look at it, Canada has never had enough money to do everything, but since 1961 we've been the leader of the world in various areas. We need to continue to pursue that.

This interview has been edited and condensed.