Chris Hadfield

I remember feeling joy and wonder about space exploration when I was a child. As I aged, everything sort of got routine and, while still theoretically interesting, was no longer evocative in the way it used to be. The only space stuff which excited me were collections of old space imagery or provocative think pieces which suggested that space had become a dumping ground of spent experiments. I don’t think I was the only one who thought like this either. There’s been a sense that we need to discover something new or go to Mars in order to jump-start our interest in space again.

Turns out that all we needed was a tweeting astronaut. Chris Hadfield’s tweets, photos, and videos have brought a sense of humanity to the space program. It’s not that he was funny or a geek or took some fantastic photos, it’s that he took us with him and allowed us to enjoy the giddy excitement of seeing our world from space. We’ve outgrown the Blue Marble sense of the Earth and have moved on to wanting to see details and reminders of our Earth from a different viewpoint.

The Star Trek tweets have to be saved though since they’re the easiest point of entry. Hadfield obviously grew up well-versed in Star Trek and still believes in the optimism of the show. That he’s able to be one of us, and makes the same kind of jokes that we’d hope to make is what made me follow him.

That he also insisted on posting photos of various cities he flew over endeared him to the world. I think we all like seeing our hometowns from space. I certainly am no exception. The photos of the Bay Area remind me of flying into SFO and the sense of home and “I’m back” which comes with that. But they’re also from a much higher viewpoint and reveal more of the entire area than I’ve ever seen.

San Francisco Bay Area. The sun glint really shows the water and cloud flow patterns.

San Francisco and the whole Bay Area. Taken at an angle, it is easy to see the entire layout of the bay by night.

Hadfield’s city photos help enforce the idea that the Earth is home to all of us. Yes, we all know this. But it’s not something we think about daily. Seeing the photos, and people’s reactions to them, from all over the world is a daily reminder of this concept. I particularly like how he explicitly posted images of Mecca. Given recent events, the idea that there is no they is hard for a lot of people to understand.

Makkah (مكة), spiritual home to over a billion of us.

Makkah (مكة), spiritual home to over a billion of us.

—Chris Hadfield

In the same way that his politics are subtle, so is his environmental message. He doesn’t take photos and show/decry devastation as much as he could. He will occasionally call a pit mine a blight on the landscape. But more often he just shows us the way things are and lets us connect the dots.

Mississippi delta - heartland topsoil flowing relentlessly into the Gulf of Mexico.

Mississippi delta – heartland topsoil flowing relentlessly into the Gulf of Mexico.

—Chris Hadfield

As with Misrach’s photos, there’s a subtle power in just confronting us with how things are and forcing us to ask the questions ourselves. In the case of the space photos, we still can’t see many of the things we build but we can see our footprints all over the planet. That paradox of sorts is already plenty food for thought and was at the heart of Paglen’s Last Pictures too.

It’s not all seriousness up there though. Hadfield took time to record all kinds of videos from how crying and tears (don’t) work in space to chats with Captain Kirk. And there are just some silly fun examples thrown in too.

What I really like though is how he understands how art and science should work together. He sees beauty and wonder wherever he looks and he attempts to communicate what he’s seeing to us both with his words and his images. It’s not enough for him to show us the technological feats of engineering which placed humans in space. He chooses to show us the details which catch his eye and, many times, provides descriptions which explain his thinking rather than just giving us geographic location information.

It’s a shame that NASA’s image archive doesn’t seem to have many of his photos available. Or if they are available, I can’t find them. His images and descriptions don’t fit in with the rest of NASA’s heuristics—making them either impossible to file or even more impossible to find.

I’ll post a collection of my favorites tomorrow. Until then, I’ll put this one up since it doesn’t fit with the rest of my selection but does capture a lot of what I like. Every photographer eventually takes a photo of the moon rising. Hadfield took his fair share of them as well. This is my favorite.

Tonight's Finale: The full moon rises over the only planet we have ever called home.

The full moon rises over the only planet we have ever called home.

—Chris Hadfield

It’s only fitting that after five months of tweeting from above, he signed off with a cover of Space Oddity and a message of hope. Humor and heart. I didn’t realize how much I had come to enjoy and look forward to his photos and tweets. While I know he’ll continue tweeting from Earth—his tweets about his readjustment to gravity have been extremely interesting—I’ll miss his unique viewpoint from space.

Spaceflight finale: To some this may look like a sunset. But it's a new dawn.

Spaceflight finale: To some this may look like a sunset. But it’s a new dawn.

—Chris Hadfield

The best part about him being on Twitter is that I could send him a thank you tweet for bring the joy and wonder back. I don’t know if he read it. It doesn’t matter if he did. It’s pretty clear that my feelings on the matter are similar to many many other people’s. And that’s been just as enjoyable an experience to see as well.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

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