Chris Hadfield, whom you may recognize from all of the videos he uploaded to YouTube about his life aboard the International Space Station, wanted to be an astronaut ever since he watched the moon landing on television at the age of 9. So, he became one. It wasn't easy -- it took decades of hard work, sacrifice, immeasurable support from his family, and a bit of luck. Chris recently talked to Cracked about a few of the things he learned during two space shuttle missions and five months aboard the International Space Station, and he let us know that ...
6It Will Kill You in Surprisingly Mundane Ways
I went blind for half an hour on my first spacewalk, which is every bit as worrisome as it sounds. You see, we have a water supply in our suits, because we'll be outside for eight hours at a time, and space station maintenance is thirsty work. A few drops got loose, picked up the anti-fog chemicals from my visor, and flew into my left eye.
My body did the natural thing, which was to try and flush the intruding droplets out with tears. But tears don't fall in space -- they just build up like a clogged drain. And they kept building up until I was blind in both eyes. It was like my head was stuck in a fishbowl. In space.
There's a reason aquavision never caught on as a superpower.
It was a weird experience, because pretty much all of my senses were useless to me. All I could do was talk. At first we thought there might be a gas leak in my suit, so I vented it, which is another way of saying that I got to float in space while utterly blind and listening to my oxygen hiss out into the universe. It's not an experience I can recommend, but I stayed calm -- moments like that are exactly why we go through so much training and place so much trust in each other in the first place.
After all, these situations aren't unheard of. Luca Parmitano came close to drowning in space when his water supply leaked into his helmet. The crew of the Russian space station Mir had to put out a fire while dealing with malfunctioning gas masks. And we all know the story of Apollo 13, although the true-life incident involved much less Tom Hanks.
Not that the real Jim Lovell was any less disarmingly likable.
Tragedy, of course, is not unknown to space exploration. Between Challenger, Columbia, Soyuz 1, and Soyuz 11, 18 astronauts have been killed on missions. Eleven more have died during training. Ground workers have also given their lives, including 48 who were killed during a single rocket fueling gone wrong. And then there's the long, harrowing list of close calls where we narrowly avoided disaster.
Now, I don't mention that to scare anyone into thinking that space travel isn't worth the risk, but to explain why we take the risks. When I sat on the launchpad, I knew there was about a 1 in 38 chance that I was about to be killed. Those are decent odds at the casino, but not the greatest when you're strapped to one of the most complicated machines ever built about to rip free from the bonds of Earth. I had no proof that the men and women responsible for my safety didn't rush through the job so they could cut out early for lunch, but because I trusted them, I knew that wasn't the case.
That's why I didn't panic when I went blind. It wasn't just because I have a long history of facing down dangerous situations like a mustachioed John McClane (although I do), but because I knew that no matter what happened, my crew and I would do the best we possibly could to deal with it. You'd be surprised by what sort of risks you're willing to take when you have knowledge, experience, and trust at your back.