Bridging the Generational Gap with Astronauts

            As part of Generation Y, I can attest that many of my cohorts and I have had little interest in astronauts. We understand who these explorers are; can name a few, one of them even landed on the moon (it may have even been a conspiracy). We know that our parents, the baby boomers, love astronauts, aspired to be astronauts, and used to bore us with their memories of space exploration in the 1960’s and 70’s. I never understood or shared the fascination my father invested in the heroes of NASA and their courageous exploits. That is, until I came across @Cmdr_Hadfield on Twitter.

For those who aren’t Twitter users, @Cmdr_Hadfield is the Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield’s personal twitter account. He uses Twitter and Facebook as a direct line of communication to share his life in the International Space Station with anyone with an internet connection and enough interest to pay attention to one of the most enchanting individuals alive at the moment. My fascination started with Commander Hadfield sharing his beautiful bird’s eye view of the planet, taking and narrating pictures of everything from the smoking wildfires in the Australian outback, to the snow-capped peaks of Mount Everest, to the meandering Great Wall of China (which he tweets cannot be seen by the naked eye from space, contrary to popular belief), even panoramas of Toronto at night, brilliantly illuminated by our crowded downtown core. He shares videos of life in zero gravity, how astronauts eat breakfast, sleep and trim their fingernails while floating around, upside down. The man has performed with the Barenaked Ladies on CBC radio, been a guest on the Rick Mercer Report, and conducted interviews over Skype for curious schoolchildren in Sarnia, Ontario, all from space. For the first time, an astronaut has commanded my attention.

            My father grew up with a healthy obsession with astronauts, so far as he wanted to be one when he grew up. He has an album with all his favorite astronauts’ signed portraits, stories of watching the moon landing while sitting on the floor in his living room, and fond memories of building scale-model space ships. I could never really share these sentiments or interests with him. When he regaled me with his impressions of outer space, I found the stories were stale, 40 years past, old news. I could share hockey with him. He had Bobby Orr, I had Doug Gilmour. I had my own hero to connect with, making hockey current, relevant and interesting. Now social media is bridging this generational gap and inspiring both our imaginations. Through Commander Hadfield, I can begin to experience the next frontier, and my father gets to relive the excitement of his childhood, this time with direct access to the inside of the space station.

Chris Hadfield is Generation Y’s Neil Armstrong. He is a living example of how science can push a man out of his comfort zone (Earth) and test his bravery. Conveniently his experience is available at our fingertips to inspire our imaginations, motivate our own education, and hopefully satisfy a curiosity that is becoming more insatiable. He is not only a scientist; the man has a penchant as an entertainer. He pokes fun at the unimaginative, often linear organization of man’s territorial divisions, while marvelling at the beauty of Mother Nature’s organic composition. The romantic he is, he saved a collection of heart shaped lake photographs, and tweeted them to his wife for Valentine’s Day. The journalist he is, he photographedthe unbiased effect man has had on the physical changes of the planet. He offers his followers a scientific, artistic and completely fresh view of our planet, presenting all human races as a single species.

My father and I can finally share this interest in the extra- terrestrial. For the record, I recommend that you and your friends follow this Canadian musician, photographer, internet celebrity, romantic, journalist, scientist, the astronaut Commander Hadfield along with us on Facebook or through Twitter. He’s got something for everyone.