Chris Hadfield | Impossible goals key to success, says astronaut

Stuart Matthews
Stuart Matthews

YouTube sensation and astronaut Chris Hadfield hails UAE’s ‘audacious goal’ to put an orbiter around Mars

Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who took YouTube by storm with a cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity filmed in orbit, has described the Emirates Mars Mission as an ‘audacious goal’ comparable in challenge to the moon landings.

Speaking ahead of his appearances at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, the former air force colonel and first Canadian to walk in space said that setting such challenges was key to giving young people something to aim for.

“To have given the audacious goal of putting something around Mars within five years or so: that’s a moon landing for sure,” he said. “It’s a really hard thing to do, but if you don’t challenge people they won’t rise to the challenge: I think it’s a great idea. It’s not easy, but we’re not exploring the universe because it’s easy.

“If you don’t give your young people a challenge that is on the edge of the impossible, they’ll go somewhere where one of those exists.”

Hadfield has flown in space three times, on both the US Space Shuttle programme and Russia’s Soyuz, and had a hand in building the International Space Station and Russia’s Mir Space Station. Since 1992, he has been speaking to students and has a few words of advice for any young people in the UAE who have their eye on a future in space.

“The real key is to give yourself an impossible goal,” he said. “Because impossible things happen. Things that, up until now, have never had the chance to possibly happen now become possible, and then normal.

“The big goals are easy. But the real definition of life is always in the succession of things you choose to do next. If you haven’t given yourself an audacious direction for your life, it’s harder to choose what to do next.

“If you don’t become an astronaut it doesn’t really matter. My goal was to walk on the moon and I still haven’t, but I don’t consider myself a failure. It helped me make all the decisions that got me to do all of the things I [have]. I would not have done any of those things if I hadn’t had the goal of walking on the moon.”

While Hadfield describes himself as the absolute opposite of a thrill seeker, he acknowledges that his occupation has its risks. The astronaut’s job, he says, is to completely understand and control those risks so that they can prevail on their mission, no matter what happens. 

“That’s the joy of it, doing something hard, doing something with risk and learning, disciplining and teaching myself to do it well enough that I can succeed at it,” he said. “To me that’s a wonderful combination.”

As well as being inspired by the first moon landings – he was around 10 when Neil Armstrong stepped out of Apollo 11 – Hadfield claims a literary spark for his successful career as an astronaut. Credit goes to science fiction writings from the likes of John Brunner, Arthur C Clarke and Ray Bradbury, all of whom have helped to build a place in popular culture for the idea of space exploration.

“What inspired me first was science fiction, because that just kind of opened up all of the things that might be possible.”