It’s not every day you get to meet your hero, but that’s exactly what Lauren MacDougall experienced on Wednesday afternoon.
The nine-year-old aspiring astronaut drove four hours from Sydney with her brother, parents and grandparents to see Chris Hadfield last night. The former commander of the International Space Station was at Rath Eastlink Community Centre to share stories from space and play music with students from Truro Elementary School.
The highlight of Lauren’s trip wasn’t the show, however, but a chance encounter with Hadfield in the parking lot of their hotel.
“It’s incredible,” said Lisa MacDougall, Lauren’s mother. “I got out of the car, and there he was, walking across the parking lot with his guitar.”
After introducing herself, Hadfield invited the family to meet him in the hotel for a quick chat and some pictures.
“Do you know how old I was when I decided I was going to be an astronaut?” Hadfield asked the girl as they sat on a couch, posing for pictures. “I was nine, too!”
A fourth-grader at Shipyard Elementary, Lauren spends her time stargazing through her telescope at home.
“It was really cool because I never met anybody like him before,” she said. “I love astronauts.”
MacDougall took her children out of school early to get to the event so they could hear Hadfield’s stories. What they got was so much more.
“This is a dream come true,” MacDougall said. “I wanted them to know there are people out there who achieve their dreams. This was more than we could ever have dreamed.”
Dreams are something Hadfield spoke of at great length.
He pinpointed the exact day he knew he wanted to be an astronaut: July 20, 1969 – the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon.
“I was just about to turn 10,” he said. “I was going to grow up to be something, so why not grow up to be that?”
The event also featured Laurie Skreslet, the first Canadian to reach the top of Mount Everest.
Skreslet took the audience through his journey, which lasted from July to October of 1982. It was a brutal trek, which resulted in the loss of four lives, including CBC cameraman Blair Griffiths and a failed attempt to breach the Khumbu Icefall – a treacherous pass on the mountain’s southeast route. After breaking ribs recovering Griffith’s body, Skreslet descended the mountain to see a doctor. Upon reaching the hospital a week later, the X-ray machine was broken, so Skreslet hurried back to base camp. Reaching camp in three days, he told his fellow climbers the X-rays came back positive and he was OK.
“I determine my future by my willingness to try,” Skreslet said.
Hadfield followed Skreslet, detailing how his three trips to space – the last of which was a five-month stay as the commander of the ISS, where he captivated the world with his posts from space via social media.
He told the crowd about his first mission, and the process to get ready that day. After waking up that morning knowing he’d be heading to space, Hadfield did as any astronaut does, and pulled on his adult diaper. This particular year, Johnson & Johnson sponsored Pull-Ups with multi-coloured astronauts on them.
“So here I am in my big boy Pull-Ups, with little pink and blue astronauts all over them, feeling every inch a hero,” Hadfield said.
Since returning home, Hadfield has been steady travelling and promoting his work. Nights like Wednesday aren’t about spreading science lessons from space, however, but about the real message behind it all.
“That’s kind of the point of it – the inspirational side … I could just be sitting on my porch for the rest of my life with my feet up, but I think the lessons I learned are important.”
It all comes back to the morning a nine-year-old boy turned on the TV to see the world change before his eyes.
“Up until that morning it had been impossible,” he said. “It was hugely enabling to see that impossible things can happen.”
July 20, 1969, was the day Chris Hadfield’s life changed forever. June 25, 2014, was the day that changed Lauren MacDougall’s.