Chris Hadfield’s primary claim to fame is his status as the first Canadian astronaut to ever walk in space.
But Chris Hadfield is certainly no historical footnote. Over the last decade he has become a cultural icon of sorts, bringing a unique blend of scientific and philosophical insight to the public much in the same way that Neil deGrasse Tyson has done for physics.
Hadfield’s fame began growing in 2013 when he documented his day-to-day life on the International Space Station via social media. Since then, his approachable personality and his natural charisma have helped transform him into a sort of public ambassador for space exploration.
So for anyone familiar with Chris Hadfield’s public persona, it’s no surprise that his masterclass covers a lot more than the scientific and operational aspects of space travel.
Instead, what he delivers is a tour de force that goes far beyond topics like orbital mechanics and Earth-to-space communications to touch on the accumulated wisdom of a man who has arguably lived one of the more remarkable and interesting lives in recent times.
Course Content and Main Themes
At first glance, the course title comes off as perhaps a bit absurd: Chris Hadfield Teaches Space Exploration.
This is, of course, not entirely accurate. Nobody is going to teach you how to explore space through an online course. Hopefully you realize that.
But what this masterclass does deliver is a captivating mix of storytelling, science, and philosophy. Here are a few main themes you’ll encounter.
The scientific foundation of space travel
Hardcore space nerds may or may not find much new in terms of scientific insight into how space travel works. Anyone who can explain the Rocket Equation has probably already eclipsed this course from a hard science perspective.
However, for everyone else there is plenty of fascinating insight into topics like:
- Logistical and technical challenges of space flight
- Basic physics governing space flight and its limitations
- The behavior of objects in space, including a discussion of the bizarre and non-intuitive nature of orbital mechanics
- How space vehicles have evolved over time
From a technical perspective, it’s probably correct to say that this course is geared more toward the science-curious than the science-fluent. Yet even for people who already understand the nuts-and-bolts of space travel, this course presents plenty of valuable content in other areas.
Human and philosophical issues related to space travel
This is where Chris Hadfield is able to put his natural storytelling ability to full use.
Space travel has a wide range of real and philosophical implications for astronauts and for the human race in general. And this wouldn’t be a Chris Hadfield masterclass if you didn’t get a hefty dose of that.
This is also where the course often diverges from direct discussion of space travel and touches on larger themes in human life. Hadfield speaks on numerous such themes, such as:
- How space flight tests human limitations (physically, mentally and emotionally)
- What real leadership looks like
- Achievement, dedication and fulfillment
- The philosophical and practical dimensions of risk, including how to plan for worst case scenarios
These discussions are what make the course particularly special, in part because many of the themes he covers are universally applicable. It seems likely that anyone who takes this course will come out with a meaningfully altered or enriched perspective on life.
That’s not to say that every minute of the course is going to captivate every single student. There are plenty of notable highlights along with some sections that may hit with some people and miss with others (particularly the science-heavy parts). After all, the course in total is nearly eight hours long. It’s no small feat to hold a student’s attention for that long.
Lesson four was my favorite part of the entire course. In this lesson, Hadfield describes the day of a rocket launch from the perspective of an astronaut on the crew, including a gripping moment-by-moment account of the launch itself all the way through exiting the atmosphere into weightlessness. He narrates everything in such detail that you almost feel as if you’ve experienced it yourself.
His exceptional charisma and storytelling ability are on full display in this section. It’s nearly impossible to describe how engrossing the lesson is, and it sets the table for the seven or so hours that follow.
Mind-bending facts about the physics of space travel
Physics is weird. It gets even weirder when you leave the atmosphere and enter space.
Orbital mechanics and the phenomenon of weightlessness are two areas where Hadfield offers up some truly strange insights. Unless you’re already educated on these topics, you’ll be surprised to learn how they actually work.
Universally applicable lessons taken from astronaut training
It’s always interesting to study the mindset and habits of high achievers.
But astronauts take preparation to another level altogether. The methodical and ultra detailed approach that Hadfield describes should be a real eye opener even for people who consider themselves organized and disciplined. Gaining insight into how astronauts train and prepare is likely to make you realize how fundamentally lazy you are and how much you routinely leave up to chance. At least that’s what it did for me.
Personally, my concept of risk was shifted as a result of taking this course. I imagine everyone will take away something slightly different but equally valuable.
Space nerd stuff
Wannabe astronauts and the space-obsessed will find some in-the-weeds discussion about topics like daily life on the space station, the history of mission control communication, the specific strategies astronauts use to memorize and archive the enormous amount of information they must maintain access to, and so forth.
It’s certainly not the most detailed description of life in space, but you do get some interesting insights into the behind-the-scenes operation going on in real time during a space flight.
Who is This Course Right For?
If Chris Hadfield’s masterclass sounds remotely interesting to you, take it. If you’re considering buying it for someone else, do it.
I don’t think you need specialized interests to find this course entertaining, useful, and meaningful. With that being said, it’s is perfect for anyone who is interested in:
- Space or science
- Strategies and determinants of success
- Leadership and self-discipline
- How ultra-high achievers think and act
I could probably list many other groups as well, but there’s really no point. My advice is simple: take this course.Take the Masterclass