This post was originally published in The Irish Examiner as written by The Gossip’s presenter Jonathan deBurca Butler. It predates his recent Major Tom video. Enjoy…
Jonathan deBurca Butler
Last month the Irish language was given something of an unexpected boost when Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield tweeted as Gaelige from the International Space Station. Posting a night time photo of Dublin via his twitter account Cmdr. Hadfield added the words: “Tá Eire fiorálainn! Land of green hills dark beer. With Dublin glowing in the night.” Unsurprisingly, the tweet made national news and turned Cmdr Hadfield into something of a star on these shores.
As a result, he has received much grá and appreciation from his followers in Ireland and the tweets have kept on coming. “Wow, I can feel the warmth of the Irish all the way up here – go raibh maith agaibh!” he tweeted later. On St Patrick’s Day Cmdr Hadfield went as far as singing and recording a version of Danny Boy which he then tweeted a link to. There have been several photos of other parts of the country too, including Cork and Donegal.
Cmdr. Hadfield’s son, Evan, is responsible for much of the astronaut’s output; a job which, because of his other commitments he would find difficult to do alone.
“Dad is great,” says the 28-year-old. “I speak to him every day to help keep his social media explosion under control. We keep in touch over e-mail, and write back and forth anywhere between a few and a few dozen times a day. It really depends on what we need to get done, and how much input he needs from the ground. My purpose is to make all his work on social media as effortless as possible for him. Since he has very little time, I try to make sure that posting only takes a few minutes, and that he is able to simply float in, post, and float away. If it were any more complicated, he couldn’t keep up the regimen he has.”
Evidently, the Cmdr. is a very busy man. So why he would spend so much of his free time tweeting about Ireland is somewhat baffling; albeit nicely baffling. As Evan explains there is a strong connection.
“My sister is studying at Trinity College Dublin,” explains Evan. “She’s twenty-six and she absolutely loves Ireland. She thinks it’s beautiful, and loves to convince the rest of the family to come visit. She doesn’t like too much media attention, though, so I’d best leave any further details out if that’s OK.”
“She is one of the reasons he tweets about Ireland, and knows the geography” he continues. “The other is that the Irish have taken to Dad very kindly. He obviously tweets more photos of the areas most requested, and per capita Ireland has turned into one of the most popular areas for Dad’s tweets. With such an amazing group of people supporting him, it was only fair that he tweeted something in kind.”
Cmdr. Hadfield was the first Canadian to walk in space. He is a former fighter pilot and prior to this expedition he had gone on two expeditions in 1995 and 2001. Hadfield grew up on a corn farm in southern Ontario but he had dreams of becoming a pilot from a very early age. According to Evan: “When he saw the moon landing, as a young boy, he decided that was the life for him.”
Evan jokingly says that his father “is very cool but also a bit of a dork”.
“That’s what happens when you get a dedicated engineer who also happens to be one of the world’s best fighter pilots” he says. “They mesh well to bring him down to Earth enough to connect with people of all backgrounds very easily. He grew up on a farm, and worked his way to where he is through sheer determination. He is really just a guy who wanted to do something, and did it. A lot of people find that really cool, and he tries not to let their admiration change him from being that same farm boy.”
Evan says that being the son of an astronaut never really affected him as he was growing up. That said when it came to having the coolest Dad in class he did have a distinct advantage.
“I never really realised he was different,” says Evan. “In reality, I still don’t. He’s just my Dad. Behind the scenes, all humans are just people. If you got to see John Lennon in his tighty-whities every morning rummaging around for a matching pair of socks before work, your whole perception of him would change too. Dad is an incredibly successful human being who was determined to do right with his life. But at the end of the day he is just like anybody else. Loves puns, enjoys bad movies, the works.”
There are of course certain dangers that go with the job of being an astronaut. Evan recalls that when his father went on his first mission, when Evan was around ten, the “adults were nervous about something”. He now views the dangers of the job in a more stoical fashion.
“Now that I’m grown, I’m much less worried so long as he is in control,” he says. “He isn’t the type of guy to make an error. If there is any problem that he can’t solve while in space, I’m fairly certain the problem wasn’t meant to be solved. At the end of the day, everyone dies. My only fear about him dying in space is that people would insist on turning his death into the “key point” to his life. The media would make it into a yearly event where they gush over the tragedy, completely ignoring the amazing things he did while alive. I am far more afraid of how the media would turn his memory into some sort of monetised death parade than I am of his actual death.”
Cmdr. Hadfield left Earth on December 19th and is due to return sometime in the middle of May. So when can we expect to see him in Ireland?
“Absolutely he’ll visit,” says Evan. “I’m not sure when yet, but with my sister in the country and such a great number of fans, I can’t imagine he’ll stay away for too long.”
When he does he is due a great big Cead Mile Failte.