In space, Chris Hadfield had the superpower of weightlessness. Back on Earth, he’s like an old man—shuffling his feet, feeling dizzy, and suffering aches and pains, he told reporters gathered at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA)’s headquarters in Montreal today, his first press conference since landing in Kazakhstan after a five-month mission to the International Space Station, where he became Canada’s first space commander.
“We’re tottering around like two old duffers in an old folks’ home,” Hadfield joked about himself and fellow astronaut Tom Marshburn, who was on the mission with him. Still, he seemed happy to be home.
Speaking from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where Hadfield and Marshburn are undergoing extensive rehabilitation to build back their bodies after life in zero gravity, Hadfield spoke frankly about the physical challenges he’s facing. His openness was unsurprising for an astronaut who’s become such a celebrated communicator.
“I haven’t held my head up in five months, so my head is sore and my back is sore,” Hadfield said. “I’m still trying to stand up straight. I have to sit in the shower so I don’t faint and fall down.” With no calluses on the bottom of his feet, “it’s like I walked on hot coals yesterday.” Underneath his polo shirt, he was wearing a G-suit to squeeze his legs and push blood into his upper body. Even his mouth feels different in gravity: “I learned to talk with a weightless tongue.” He says he’s getting measurably better by the day.
Despite the huge amount of outreach Hadfield’s done from space—he’s active on every major social network, from Facebook to YouTube, and his Twitter feed now has almost one million followers—he seemed somewhat surprised to find the fame waiting for him at home. When pressed on whether he’d seek a role as president of the CSA, and what else came next, Hadfield was firm. “It’s like asking an infant if they’re ready for their PhD,” he insisted. He’ll be the parade marshal of the Calgary Stampede, and plans to be in Ottawa for Canada Day; but beyond that, he’s not making long term plans, staying focused on his debriefings and other commitments, including physical rehabilitation. He’s also a human lab rat, with researchers poking and prodding him to learn more about the effects of space travel.
Hadfield spoke with wonder about the sights he saw from above, “like an island off Turkey that looks like an exclamation mark, or a river in Brazil that looks like the S on Superman’s chest.” He’s happy to be back with two feet on the ground, just in time for spring.