Cape Town – In NASA’s last astronaut selection 18 300 people applied for 12 positions, in Canada’s last selection 8 000 people applied for two positions and for the new BBC doccie Astronauts: The Toughest Job in the Universe several thousand people applied for one position.
This in itself proves that for many the dream of becoming an astronaut remains just a dream; however this incredible documentary follows 12 ordinary people as they take on a demanding training regime in the hopes of making their dream come true.
In a telephone interview with retired astronaut Chris Hadfield, Channel24 delves into what it takes to become a candidate for astronaut training.
On becoming an astronaut
When an interview starts with, “Oh wow, I’ve seen Cape Town from space and it's absolutely beautiful! I’ve never actually been, but I’d love to visit,” then you know it’s going to be a good conversation.
Hadfield worked as an astronaut for 21 years and was lucky enough to make three separate trips to outer space. With a ton of experience and a passion for the trade, he has made it his mission to “let people see some of the amazing stuff that is going on right on the edge of the human existence.”
Like a lot of young kids do, Chris had always dreamed of becoming an astronaut but it was when he saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon that his life changed forever.
“What really convinced me was to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon, I was 9 years old and just thought, ‘Wow! That used to be impossible and if those guys can do that, if they can do something impossible then why can’t I.’”
On the Toughest Job in the Universe
Chris has shared his experience in the hopes of inspiring others through public speaking all around the world, including Johannesburg, and the doccie is a mere extension of that.
“A lot of people have the standard misimpression of, ‘Well there’s a huge physical test and then you’re training to be an astronaut’ and it’s just so different than that.
“You could be asked to do so many different things, for instance I had to be not just a photographer but I had to make IMAX movies, I had to learn to speak another language and fly a spaceship in that language, I had to learn how to space-walk, which is like the most complex deep sea ballet ever, and so I want to let people see what we really ask our astronauts to do and then for people to start thinking, ‘Well shoot, why shouldn’t I be able to do something beyond what I am doing.’”
Another misconception is the premise of the doccie itself.
“I think the important thing to point out is that this is not a show about astronaut training, that goes on for 20 years. This is show about astronaut selection. So, how do you get selected and what sort of skills do you need so that you can eventually be qualified to go into astronaut training.”
And having gone through a very similar process himself, Chris emphasises how realistic the documentary needed to be to achieve its main objective.
“When I started working on Astronauts: The Toughest Job in the Universe with BBC a couple of years ago I wanted to make sure that it shows people what it’s actually like.
“If you raise the bar high enough, there will be people that will change who they are to try and get over that bar and that’s what this show is all about – to not just be fun to watch but also to let people picture themselves as somebody else and to therefore inspire them to maybe do different things.”
On travelling to space
While the show is just an appetizer of the life of an astronaut, Chris has had his fair share of space travel and while the thought of flying to the moon in a rocket has been glamourised by TV and movies, it definitely isn’t easy.
“Well, it [the spaceship] is the most complicated machine ever built, the most capable but still the most complicated and things happen super-fast, so what is upper-most in your mind is all of the tasks that need to get done. You’re very, incredibly, intensely involved in piloting and guiding this immensely complex machine to do something that is right on the edge of impossible.”
But travelling to space isn’t all business either.
One thing Chris always travelled with was an astronaut watch. Not only because in space you go around the world in 90 minutes and can easily lose track of time on earth but also because he made sure that each of his three children got a souvenir of his outer space travels.
“When you’re on board a spaceship, ‘What time is it?’ is an intriguing question because you go around the world every 90 minutes, so you have a sunrise every 46 minutes – which is 16 sunrises and16 sunsets a day.
“So, I think maybe an astronaut watch was something I never travelled without. And what’s nice is I flew in space three times and I have three children so I took a watch for each of my kids so that later in life I can give it to them.”
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
Astronauts: The Toughest Job in the Universe premieres Sunday, 8 October at 16:00 on BBC Earth (DStv 184).
(Photos: Supplied by BBC)