Canadian explorer and icon Colonel Chris Hadfield took the stage at the 2022 ELEVATE Festival in Toronto to give a talk called "The Future of Space Travel - Now!"
At the end of his presentation, he opened up the floor to questions, and a student in the crowd asked him what the "end goal" was for space travel.
Colonel Hadfield's response was insightful, inspiring, and applicable to more than just space travel. Here's what he said:
We learn to walk way before we learn to talk.
Because evolution has noticed that you have to go explore to understand things.
You can't just have somebody explain it to you.
If you just spent the first ten years of your life lying in bed and someone explaining the world to you, when you first went outside, you'd be overwhelmed.
The necessity to explore is absolutely fundamental to human nature, and human development, and civilization itself.
And there's nothing magic about space. We live in space, we just happen to be close to the surface of a planet. Like (jumping on stage), there… I got that far away from the planet, you know? I was a little closer to space.
It's just our technology is getting better and better and better making space access suddenly a thing. When I was born, no one had flown in space. This has all happened so fast.
And so where it's going to head?
We are going to be able to access resources that are not economically viable or environmentally viable to access on Earth. We are going to be able to understand our planet better. We're going to be able to communicate better because of the high ground and the access that way. We're going to get all our eggs out of one basket. Not just living on the space station but living on our nearest neighbour, the moon, and then eventually we'll figure out the ships that can safely take us and start living in other places as well.
And it all sounds crazy.
But everything sounds crazy until some people say, “That's important to me. That pisses me off. I want to make that happen in my life. I'm going to change who I am. I'm going to organize this group of people. I'm going to gather 30,000 people in Toronto to talk about some of the problems and how we can address them. I'm going to talk to the Mayor. I'm going to try and make this thing happen. I'm going to run into all sorts of obstacles, but I am going to, with my particular sway, make this thing happen because it's really important to me.
And space, that's just the start of everything else.
P.S. I was sitting in the second row of the Main Stage throughout this conference and, fortunately, I was fast enough with my smartphone to record this amazing response. You can watch it for yourself below.
P.P.S. I had the pleasure of meeting Colonel Hadfield at the last ELEVATE festival I attended before this year's conference, back in 2019. It was a book signing, and I wanted an author-signed copy of his children's book, The Darkest Dark, dedicated to my four kids.
As I shook his hand, I smiled and said, "Colonel Hadfield, I live just a few blocks away from a school named after you!" To which he replied, in a humble way perfectly appropriate for a Canadian, "Oh, really... which one?"
Then he took my book from me and prepared to sign it, looking at the Post-It note that showed the name he was to personalize. He stopped, gave me a puzzled look, and asked, "Are you sure?"
At that point, I had to explain that I had four children... but the person preparing the Post-It notes in advance of Colonel Hadfield arriving made it very clear that only a single name would be allowed. My solution was to use the first initial of each of my children's names. Unfortunately, my children are named, in birth order, Chloë, Aidan, Charlotte, and Andrew... which means their initials spell "C.A.c.a".