Science & Technology

What Does It Feel Like to Go to Space? NASA Astronaut Chris Hadfield Explains

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 17, 2019 • 3 min read

Long before NASA and its Russian counterparts launched the twentieth-century space race with rocket programs like Apollo and Soyuz, humankind has long dreamed of breaking beyond Earth’s atmosphere and experiencing the miracle of space travel.

While the overwhelming majority of humans inhabiting Earth will never get to experience spaceflight, some lucky individuals, like NASA astronaut Chris Hadfield, have been there and done that—and can share the experience with the rest of us.



Chris Hadfield Teaches Space ExplorationChris Hadfield Teaches Space Exploration

In 28+ lessons, the former commander of the International Space Station teaches you the science of space exploration and what the future holds.

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Who Is Chris Hadfield?

Referred to as “the most famous astronaut since Neil Armstrong,” Colonel Chris Hadfield is a worldwide sensation whose video of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”—seen by over 75 million people online—was called “possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created,” by Bowie himself.

Acclaimed for making outer space accessible to millions, and for infusing a sense of wonder into our collective consciousness not felt since humanity first walked on the moon, Colonel Hadfield continues to bring the marvels of science and space travel to everyone he encounters.

Currently, Colonel Hadfield can be seen as the co-creator and host of the internationally acclaimed BBC series “Astronauts,” and he is co-hosting, with actor Will Smith, the National Geographic series “One Strange Rock,” directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Colonel Hadfield is also the producer of the celebrated “Rare Earth” series on YouTube, and the creator of the onstage celebration Generator, which combines science, comedy, and music for sold-out audiences.

A Canadian by birth, Colonel Hadfield was selected as a NASA Mission Specialist, and three years later he was aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, where he helped build the Mir space station. In 2001, on the Shuttle Endeavour, Colonel Hadfield performed two spacewalks and in 2013, he became Commander of the International Space Station (ISS) for six months off-planet.

As a key figure in the American space program, Colonel Hadfield has experienced nearly everything one might expect in the life of an astronaut. He’s worn a spacesuit, experienced lack of gravity (even zero gravity), spent part of his life in space (subsisting on space food), collaborated with European and Asian astronauts, and experienced what it’s really like to live somewhere other than the surface of the planet.

Chris Hadfield Describes What It Feels Like to Launch Into Space

Here is how Colonel Hadfield describes the moments from sitting on the launchpad to achieving orbit above the Earth:

“The morning of launch marks the culmination of years of training and the realization of a lifetime of dreams. It’s a day filled with sensory experiences, extreme danger, and elite execution. Focus is paramount. Your extensive, realistic preparation makes everything second nature, from waving at the crowd to flying the rocket itself.

“As the clock counts down to zero, you’re lying on your back, intensely watching the instruments as all the rocket engines ignite. The whole crew could not be more focused. Your entire world comes down to only what is happening on the flight deck of the spaceship.

Once you’ve cleared the launch tower, communication switches from Launch Control in Florida to Mission Control in Houston. Outside the windows, the light blue sky rapidly gets darker and darker, until it turns black. The ride is intensely physical, with g-forces three times normal and rough, high-frequency vibration as the vehicle shoulders its way through the thick air. After two minutes you’re high enough that the air has thinned to almost nothing, and the first-stage boosters explode off in a burst of fireworks.

“Then the ride is suddenly smooth—but steadily getting heavier as the ship burns off fuel and the acceleration grows. The spaceship rolls through 180 degrees to let the communication antennae point at orbiting relay satellites. The ship becomes light enough that you reach 3G, and the computers ease the throttles back to not overstress the vehicle.

Each passing second takes you past emergency abort and failure options and improves your chances of making it to orbit today.

And after eight and a half minutes, suddenly the moment you have been dreaming about but never believed would happen has come. The engines shut down and you are safely there, weightless, in space.”

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Want to Learn More About Space Exploration?

Whether you’re a budding astronautical engineer or simply want to become more informed about the science of space travel, learning about the rich and detailed history of human space flight is essential to understanding how space exploration has advanced. In Chris Hadfield’s MasterClass on space exploration, the former commander of the International Space Station provides invaluable insight into what it takes to explore space and what the future holds for humans in the final frontier. Chris also talks about the science of space travel, life as an astronaut, and how flying in space will forever change the way you think about living on Earth.

Want to learn more about space exploration? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from master scientists and astronauts like Chris Hadfield.