Monday, January 18, 2016

Ground Control to Commander Hadfield

Last week, rock star David Bowie passed away. Although I grew up hearing his music, I can't claim to have been as huge of a fan as some folks were. It isn't that I didn't enjoy his hit songs—it is just that I had others who I found even more appealing. So I was a bit surprised at the strength of the reaction to his death. I guess that shows that I'm just not a big-time music aficionado.

Needless to say, because of my childhood interest in space, my favorite David Bowie song of all was “Space Oddity,” which was inspired by the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” and came out around the time of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

However, my favorite version of “Space Oddity” was not by David Bowie, but by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield who created the first “out of this world” music video when he was on the International Space Station. I started following Hadfield during his 2013 mission, because—thanks to my one Canadian friend—I was seeing some of his posts that she had “liked” come across my Facebook newsfeed. He understands the importance of social media as a teaching tool, and he is very concerned with science education. I still follow him today.

Thus, prompted by the unfortunate death of a rock star, my students were treated to several showings of Commander Hadfield's sensational video—during lunch, on the little screen of my smartphone—and loved it. These students now know a little about David Bowie as well as Chris Hadfield (I had to really emphasize that the astronaut was not the person who died, but that the man who had performed original version of the song was now dead—I think they all understand that now). Some of them spent the day humming and singing the haunting lyrics (“Ground Control to Major Tom”).

Better yet, these primary school students on the island of Dominica have a much better sense of the size and feel of the International Space Station, after watching this music video (some of them watched it several times). Back a few months ago when we watched the station fly over our heads (, I had shown them some basic NASA pictures of the space station, but watching Hadfield play the guitar and glide through the weightless corridors of the station modules seemed to really impress them.

I was able to point out a lot of features to the children, such as the airlock, cupola, sleeping quarters, etc., based on my own knowledge of the space station, dating back to my time at NASA during its inception. I even got to show them how important velcro is to astronauts working in zero gravity.

If you haven't seen this fascinating (and now poignant) video yet, I urge you to check it out at You might also want to explore the rest of Hadfield's website while you are there.

By the way, it just so happened that a couple of Canadian tourists from Sudbury, Ontario, stopped to take a few pictures of the beach by my school on Friday, so I ventured across the road to talk with them (the students had encouraged me, because these tourists were white and “might be relatives”). I enjoyed being able to tell the couple about how their astronaut was helping to enlighten some of my students. They were quick to confirm that indeed, all Canadians are very proud of Chris Hadfield.

Thank you, Commander Chris Hadfield, for your inspiring rendition of David Bowie's “Space Oddity.”

1 comment:

  1. Hi, David...
    So I Googled "Jay Rockefeller's blizzard" tonight (we're expecting the latest Storm of the Century in Morgantown tomorrow) and the first result was a link to your original blog -- and from there I quickly discovered Kuribbean. I've spent the last hour reading your stories, looking at the pictures, and wishing I might someday do what you're doing. Dominica sounds like my kind of paradise, and your description of it as having elements of our West Virginia makes it even more appealing. I've bookmarked your blogs and will be a frequent reader. Enjoy every minute of what sounds like a wild, wonderful experience. All my best, David... -- Scott Gillespie