by Tristan Stewart-Robertson May 14, 2013 11:20 IST
Commander Chris Hadfield has had a remarkable time at the International Space Station, and connected us more to the floating mass of metal than perhaps any astronaut before him.
It's not just the pictures and the sense of humour, but the sense of wonder that any of us would feel looking down at the Earth from so high a perch.
His farewell, just before he returns to ground on Monday, was what can only be described as an EPIC cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity. This is an example of Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and every other social media and web-sharing platform going into overdrive because it's just so easy to "like".
Some will criticise its musicality probably, but that's mere jealousy of someone able to sing and play guitar, in SPACE. You can't help but smile and even get a bit choked up at the beauty of the planet below.
And it's that perspective from above that has really captured the public imagination so effectively since Hadfield arrived at the space station in December.
You could view it as a shrewd marketing, but regardless, posting a mountain of public pictures of corners of the planet not only captivates the residents living within those areas, but indeed anyone who can recognise the wonder of a coastline, a beach, a desert, a city, an island - so many amazing corners.
There are politicians who obsess about science only for the sake of business, and taxpayers who might be right to question spending on space, but then you get Hadfield reminding us that pure discovery is still worth something.
According to CBC, after working with his family and particularly his son Evan, Hadfield has gathered almost 800,000 Twitter followers, his Youtube videos have picked up 22 million views and traffic to the Canadian Space Agency website is up 70 percent. This is an emphatic victory for space, space exploration, and for the women and men who are soaring above us as you read this.
Much like BBC programmes such as Frozen Planet, near cinema-quality pictures and videos of the world around us offer new eyes on what we take for granted. In so many cities, where the light pollution is crippling, we can no longer see the sky, and we need reminding of what's above us.
But in the same way, astronauts and cameras looking back down at us should inspire something else we take for granted: an appreciation of each other.
One of my top 10 films of all time - and I realise I'll get in trouble for this - is Contact, starring Jodie Foster. In the movie, based on the book by Carl Sagan, Foster's character Dr Ellie Arroway is put aboard a machine that transports her across the galaxy. When she later has to testify to the US Congress, who believe it was all in her mind, she makes an impassioned speech:
"I was given something wonderful. . . A vision of the universe that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how ... rare, and precious we all are. A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are not — that none of us — are alone. ... I wish I could share that. I wish, that everyone, if even for one moment, could feel that awe, and humility, and hope."
"Insignificant" and "precious" may seem contradictory, but it is what those pictures from space by Hadfield make you feel. We are tiny, tinier than the pixels of digital photos, somewhere within the images, but we are part of something amazing that's floating in space, in turn being viewed from a platform we made circling that planet.
Hadfield's pictures have summarised that seemingly contradictory but perfectly matched conclusion from Contact. And his farewell to space with a bit of Bowie was a perfect reminder to us all of how special life is on Earth. For that, it may be my favourite music video ever.
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