Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield Reflects on Four Months in Orbit

BY Jenny Marder  May 16, 2013 at 12:11 PM EST

Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield, who returned to Earth this week after four months on the International Space Station, fields questions on Thursday about his time in orbit.

The astronaut whose unmatched commitment to connecting with the world while in orbit, answered questions from Houston Thursday morning during his first press conference since returning to Earth. Canadian Space Agency Commander Chris Hadfield, arguably the first contemporary astronaut to achieve superstar status (he has nearly a million Twitter followers), spent an hour discussing his four months on the International Space Station, his scientific experiments in space and the perils of adapting to weightlessness and then readapting back to gravity. The trip also affected his health.

“My blood vessels have hardened,” he said. “My cardiovascular system has changed.”

Symptoms of adapting to Earth after four months of weightlessness on the International Space Station include dizziness, a sore body and neck and difficulty walking and exercising, he said. He has to sit down while taking a shower so he doesn’t faint, and with no callouses on his hands and feet, he said he felt like he was “walking on hot coals.” During the press conference, he wore a G-suit underneath his clothing to coax the blood back up to his head, he told reporters. Even speaking requires adjustment.

“I’ve had to change the way I’m talking,” Hadfield said. “I hadn’t realized I’d learned to talk with a weightless tongue.”

But many of the changes, he said, are similar to what humans undergo as they age, and as he and crewmates “totter around,” doctors gain new insights into the human body.

My blood vessels have hardened. My cardiovascular system has changed.
— Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Chris Hadfield

He spoke of the science experiments in orbit. One involved studying dark matter. Another aimed to improve spinal ultrasounds.

Especially memorable was his description of his first moments back on Earth, upon landing in Kazakhstan. Suddenly, he said, they looked outside the window, and there was earth and grass where space had been before.

“As soon as we opened door, and air started coming in, we could smell the prairie, and it smelled of wind and the grass,” he recalled. “It smelled of spring. We could smell the grass, but we could also smell the charred spaceship.”

We have more on Hadfield’s return to Earth, his musical endeavors in microgravity and his unparalleled social media acumen here. And you can see more of his photographs from the International Space Station, tips on how to eat an apple in space and his attempt to crowdsource vacation spots here.

And if you haven’t yet seen his cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” the first music video ever filmed in space, here it is. Enjoy: