Although it was years of hard work and dedication that made it all possible. You don’t just pick up the skills to become a fighter pilot, a test pilot, and an aeronautical engineer overnight. The knowledge that he picked up in STEM education was invaluable to him becoming the first Canadian to walk in space.

Laying the foundations

When did Hadfield first realize that he wanted to be an astronaut? “July 20, 1969,” he says without hesitation. “When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon.” Armstrong was a true inspiration for Hadfield and watching his achievements left the future ISS commander in little doubt as to what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“I made a deliberate choice in high school and it was inspired by the dream of someday walking on the moon like my childhood hero, Neil Armstrong. I just thought that he was the coolest guy that existed,” says Hadfield. “He managed to do something so complicated, dangerous, and difficult and he didn’t do it because he had to — he did it because we barely could.” 

The young Hadfield was completely awestruck by what Aldrin and Armstrong had achieved; it was reality, but it felt like science fiction. “I looked at that, as a nine-year-old kid, and said ‘holy cow, this isn’t Batman, this isn’t a video game, this is real,’” he says. He then started asking questions about how Aldrin and Armstrong achieved what they did. “It was very much through those four letters of the acronym (STEM) that any of it was not only possible, but that it was driven,” Hadfield says. 

“It’s only through STEM that we’re going to find the most efficient and least polluting ways of powering, heating and feeding the entire world”

STEM-powered sustainability 

 Hadfield is proud to be a part of one of the best, most accessible education systems in the world. He also thinks that it will be our education system, and a focus on STEM especially, that helps us replace our reliability on fossil fuels with sustainable, renewable energy sources. “The world needs fossil fuels for a while until we can get the next reliable energy source, and it’s only through STEM that we’re going to find the most efficient and least polluting ways of powering, heating, and feeding the entire world,” says Hadfield. 

Hadfield points out that right now, growth is outstripping technology: as a species, we’re creating more mouths than we can feed and more homes than we can heat in a sustainable manner. The solution could lie in a breakthrough in one of the publicized renewable energy sources, like wind, tidal, or solar, notes Hadfield. “Or will we need to find a way to get the energy out of the atom in a process that doesn’t create more pollutants than we can handle?” Hadfield muses. “All of that comes from the science and math side, but it also needs the technology and engineering to make it happen.” 

 Over the past 6000 years, many subsets of civilization failed because they had unsustainable models for feeding and housings their societies. To avoid this, says Hadfield, we need to pursue sustainable energy sources, and we to need to make it a top priority.  “The answer is not going to come from wishful thinking,” he says. “It’s going to come through the restless imagination and creativity of the people who are coming up with new ideas.”


Joe Rosengarten