Science & Technology

Spaceships: Navigating to the International Space Station

Chris Hadfield

Lesson time 21:04 min

“It’s kind of like an elephant ballet.” Chris talks you through the process of flying your spaceship to the ISS, docking, and beginning your adventure aboard the laboratory in the sky.

Chris 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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MISSION CONTROL (VOICEOVER): This is mission control. Status check in the control room here. All positions are go. HOUSTON (VOICEOVER): Discovery, Houston with you. DISCOVERY (VOICEOVER): Discovery, Roger. HOUSTON (VOICEOVER): We've got a good picture of you all in the crew module. DISCOVERY (VOICEOVER): Houston, we have a nice downlink. Good morning, Atlantis. It's time to do that delicate dance in the dark and dock with Mir. All ATLANTIS (VOICEOVER): Right. The task of flying your spaceship up to find, and then rendezvous, and maneuver in, and dock with another spaceship is daunting. It's really complex, and it happens in phases. At the start of it, you're so far away that you can't see each other. All of your information comes from Earth. There's an enormous satellite tracking station somewhere around the world. We have a satellite farm, like the ones down here in New Mexico. And there are big satellite dishes pointed at the sky. And they track maybe the International Space Station go over. And then later, they track whichever ship it is, the Soyuz or the space station go over. And they do the math down on Earth. They figure out the geometry. They figure out that if you want to change from this orbit to that orbit, then you need to turn your spaceship, point a certain direction, and fire your engines for a certain number of seconds, and that will start to modify your orbit to slowly catch up to the orbit of the space station that's there. If you want to catch up, you have to be closer to the Earth, because the closer you get, the faster you go around. So if the station is somewhere out in front of you, you have to be close to the Earth. And because of orbital mechanics, to get closer to the Earth, you actually turn around backwards and slow down. And that drops you into a lower orbit, which then goes around the world more quickly so you catch up. It's weird to slow down to catch up, but you get used to the idea. If you're out in front of the station, then you would have to fire your thrusters forwards. Well, actually, on this, it would be this way. You'd fire your thrusters forwards so that you'd end up in a higher orbit so you could start to drift back and get closer and closer to station. You don't want to crash into the station. You want to keep everything under really tight control. So we go through a delicate, choreographed ballet on the way into a rendezvous and docking. We practice various gates that we want to get to. You want to stop a certain number of miles or kilometers away and get things stable. If you think about it, if you're below the space station, if you're closer to the Earth, then you're going to be pulling away from it in front. If you're higher than the station, then you're going to be drifting back. But if you're at exactly the same altitude as the station, then you go around the world in exactly the same amount of time. So you'll stay stable. If you stop eight miles back from sta...

Explore the unknown

Impossible things happen. At age nine, Chris Hadfield knew he wanted to go to space. He eventually went there three times, becoming a commander of the International Space Station. In his MasterClass, Chris teaches you what it takes to explore space and what the future holds for humans in the final frontier. Learn 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.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

A very motivational and informative class! Great for students in their early bachelor study or for people that just want to learn more about space and space exploration.

I binge-watched on my job, by night and the next day on my job and it's already making my performance in what I do (Artificial Intelligence applied to sustainability) better. I will recommend it a thousand times!

Think I’m about halfway through and I’m loving it. Chris makes it easy for an ordinary human like me to understand quite complex things. Fascinating!

Chris's class is high impressive! Very detailed and rich knowledge and experience sharing. Good for Life!


Rosie G.

They brought flowers to Mir!!! So: first astronaut step: Get a jack knife!!

John G.

I find this lesson very analogous to alongside Conning when conducting underway replenishment. Soooo true in the manner in which Chris describes the process.

Morgan L.

"So I was sitting there shooting cars with my space laser..." I love his stories

laura J.

Because I really know little about space this program is worthy of listening to more than once, thank you for the opportunity to join your journey into space.

Renat G.

I wonder why not to use a "space hook" with a wire and bring the ships closer together that way. Might save some fuel. But I guess, it will be a less "controlled" way to do it. Just a random idea.


I enjoyed hearing how it all works. The movies do not portray the task all that well and miss alot of the basic factors required to properly dock. My hats off to all astronauts for their skills. Thanks for impacting human history in such a way that you will never be forgotten.

Bryce M.

There is so much to factor into docking, especially when it will not be on Earth's orbit soon.

Sandy W.

This lesson was fantastic! So interesting. I had always assumed everything was automated. I could feel their joy!

Jim S.

This was one of the most interesting so far to me. I liked the description about how the orbits are brought into synch and how they have to ease the craft together. I'm amazed at how challenging and counter intuitive it all is. I hope they can automate some more of it in the future. I'll bet they will.


Mind blowing stuff. It's so incredible. Thank you for sharing these videos. Watching you dock with Russia was as if it happened today at this very moment. How exciting!! I can't imagine Chris doesn't ever come up short for a story to tell. I'd love to have a chat with him.