Last year, Chris Hadfield, author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, became an Internet sensation when a video of him singing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” from the International Space Station went viral. After spending five months orbiting the planet, Hadfield returned to Earth on May 13, 2013, landing in the steppes of Kazakhstan. This is his account of that epic touchdown:
You plummet into the atmosphere in a crash seat custom-poured for your body. You’re in a pressure suit, a four-point harness across your shoulders and waist, all laced through a big buckle in the middle. Plus, there are straps across your knees to hold your legs in place so they don’t splay at impact. You’re utterly belted in. You’ve been warned to stop talking before impact so you don’t bite off your tongue. That’s how violent it is. A huge parachute opens above you, but the spacecraft weighs tons. The parachute slows you down a lot. Just before you land, retro-rockets fire, which slows you down some more. But you still hit the ground like a Dumpster of bricks. Except now you’re tumbling over sideways, plowing your way through the earth. You come to a stop, and where there was space outside your window, there’s now dirt. You can smell it. It’s something you haven’t smelled in half a year.
I felt a great kinship with newborn babies. They’ve been inside a womb, weightless, just wonderfully protected and nurtured. Suddenly, this violent painful process squirts you out, and, wham, it’s cold and noisy and windy, and you feel horrible. It’s no wonder that newborn babies cry. Because it’s a rude welcoming to the world.