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Hadfield Says Musk’s Rocket Shows Private Space Promise

Chris Hadfield
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield speaks during an interview in Toronto on March 26, 2014. Photographer: Galit Rodan/Bloomberg

A successful launch of a rocket with legs by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. may slash the costs of reaching space and give a boost to private space flight, former astronaut Chris Hadfield said.

SpaceX’s launch of the Falcon 9 rocket with its four landing legs, set for March 30, “is hugely important because we’ve thrown away just about every rocket we’ve launched,” Hadfield, 54, a Canadian who has logged about 100 million kilometers (62 million miles) in space, said during an interview in Bloomberg’s Toronto bureau.

Hadfield, who commanded the International Space Station from mid-March until May last year, gained fame using social media to post pictures of Earth and make videos on what it’s like to shave, throw up, cry and go to the bathroom in space. His remake of David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” got more than 21.6 million views on YouTube.

After the Falcon 9 rocket releases its payload to the space station, it’s “going to fire its engines again and land in the ocean as if it were landing on land,” Hadfield said. If they can pinpoint the landing after several trials, then Musk’s company “can cut the cost of access to space by maybe two orders of magnitude, which is enormous,” said Hadfield.

“To try to do that in human space flight, maybe SpaceX and specifically Elon Musk, is in a position to do that,” Hadfield said. “He’s got a pretty good track record.”

Musk, 42, is chief executive officer of Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX and co-founder of electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc.

Little Impact

Richard Branson’s plans to take passengers into space with Virgin Galactic is also “something that needs to be done to privatize space flight,” Hadfield said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “It’s where we have to go -- government investment to eventual privatization.”

Hadfield, who commanded the space station with an American and a Russian astronaut as crew, said he didn’t think the current tensions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea would have much of an effect on international cooperation over space.

The impact of the crisis will be “pretty minimal,” he said. “It’s an entirely separate business from land disputes in southern Ukraine.”

Russia’s actions and the Group of Seven Nations’ response have “little to no bearing on the commercial launch of satellites, which is the bread and butter of the Russian space program,” he said.

Human Urge

Hadfield, whose book “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” became a New York Times Bestseller, said countries may collaborate on establishing an outpost on the Moon or Mars. Canada is well placed to work with other countries on future projects, he said. “We do a good job of seeking partnerships. We’ve flown with the Russians, we’ve flown with the Americans. I think we’re in a good position to be a partner with the Chinese.”

The shared human urge to explore the unknown can pull different countries together to overcome the complexity and the cost of exploring space, Hadfield said.

The ISS “flies in the face of history and it flies in the face of politics, but it flies.”

“I’ve been around the world 2,600 times,” Hadfield said. “We’re all in this together.”

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