Chris Hadfield arrived at the International Space Station on December 21st, 2012. Since his arrival, he has become the darling of social and regular media. His twitter following has exploded, growing past a quarter million followers, while he has also been regularly spotlighted by news programs.
In this day and age of the viral story, @Cmdr_Hadfield has become a viral success. But we should keep in mind that viral in and of itself is not a story. There is an interest in the story that makes it popular. In this case it is a compelling story of interest in human spaceflight, one that speaks to the future and how the exploration of space will profoundly change over the coming year.
So what is it about Chris Hadfield’s tweets that has garnered so much interest? Is it the fact that he is an extraordinary individual? He certainly has quite the resume. He is a former fighter pilot with a masters degree. He was selected among a field of 5330 applicants to be a Canadian Astronaut in 1992. He has been to space twice before, which included him becoming the first Canadian to walk in space.
But many astronauts are similarly distinguished people. They are all extraordinary people that have been selected through extremely competitive fields of candidates. Indeed when referred to in the news, astronauts are often described as super human. What makes Chris Hadfield different?
Hadfield’s twitter feed has been full of regular hobbies, like photography and playing guitar. He’s often described as just a regular guy and jests with his followers in friendly banter (famously with William Shatner). His pursuit of those hobbies, while in space, is what is so fascinating to people.
By seeing a regular guy, pursue normal activities, people can imagine themselves being the one looking through the lens at those amazing shots of the earth; Or strumming the chords to their favorite song in weightlessness. The days of passive spectators of the apollo landings are long gone. People want to be involved.
This is only the beginning of how the perception of spaceflight will change over the next year. Private enterprises have opened up new ways to get to space, exemplified by the work of Virgin Galactic. Likely sometime this year, Virgin Galactic will begin ferrying passengers to space for a cool $200k.
It seems like this is the year when regular people begin to realize it’s not just super human astronauts who will go to space in the future. The future of space belongs to us all. And we all seem to be following Chris Hadfield.