Space Oddity – 2013
Chris Hadfield’s amazing rendition of “Space Oddity,” composed of footage taken on the International Space Station, brought David Bowie’s song of Major Tom to life, showing it in the real world of outer space. He made connections through not only space but time in recording this song that was then mixed back on Earth.
From the moment I first saw it, I was captivated by the spectacularly beautiful images reeling in front of me, showing both the spinning space station and this man’s deeply personal views of earth, both day and at night.
David Bowie’s song from 1969 was an aural memory for me, but the image that appears on my computer screen today is someone in real time and space, wearing socks, grabbing onto a toehold bar as an anchor. Chris brings reality to the world above our own blue atmosphere.
Chris had found a way to communicate the experience of being a human in outer space, making it real and fresh to those of us on Earth. His presence on that space ship was immediate and individual. He had a guitar in his hands and was using his fingers on the frets, singing a familiar song as he floated inside a space that included the laptops that were filming him on the padded walls.
It touched on so many of the tensions that I experience on a daily basis, the balancing of past and present, of the real world and a world most of us can never experience.
Watching him in the video, I thought of the difference between an astronomer and an astronaut. One works on the ground, while the other explores the sky. The people who work on the ground have different backgrounds from the astronauts. Most astronauts were, at some point in their lives, pilots. In Chris Hadfield’s case, he is a pilot, engineer and musician.
People take different routes to this world of space. My father’s PhD was in Solid State Physics, whereas Chris’s background as an astronaut began as a pilot. He was a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and later went on to earn a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering.
My father, on the other hand, was one of the ground people. He was at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Altadena, California from 1974 to 1989, working on the navigation equipment for Voyager’s project’s deep space missions. Though my father passed in 1992, those space craft are still out there, only now reaching the outer edges of our own system.
I have friends who work at J.P.L right now. Sharon Laubach, who received her degree in Robotics from the California Institute of Technology, directs the experiments for the Mars Rover, sending instructions for the maneuvers and experiments on a daily basis. I go to work to an office in downtown Los Angeles, while she drives the Rover on Mars.
Chris’s project brought the reality of the world of outer space into focus for the rest of us. The dream world of mankind’s past made real and immediate. Only now Chris is looking back down at Earth from his seat in the space station, whereas we look up at the sky.
His video also made me think about being a writer, and how through the process of writing, the world inside your head spins outside.
And this is dream of the writer and all those with creative projects. To bring that world, the one in our imagination, to the reader and make it as real as Chris Hadfield did with his guitar in space, as he reached through time and space to bring fresh meaning and reality to a song from forty-five years ago.
Tags: Chris Hadfield, David Bowie, family, Jet Propulsion Lab, JPL, outer space, space shuttle