Oddly Enough

Canadian astronaut wrestles with gravity after spaceflight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Back on Earth, Canadian astronaut and cyberspace tweeter Chris Hadfield is getting a rough re-introduction to gravity after a five-month stint aboard the International Space Station, the former commander told reporters during a video webcast from Houston.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield speaks on the phone after the Russian Soyuz space capsule landed some 150 km (90 miles) southeast of the town of Zhezkazgan, in central Kazakhstan May 14, 2013. REUTERS/Mikhail Metzel/Pool

Hadfield became a social media rock star with his zero-gravity version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and a continuous stream of commentary on Twitter about his life in orbit. But living without gravity for five months has left him feeling dizzy, weak and prematurely aged. A veteran of three space flights, he is wearing a pressure suit under his clothes to help his circulation as his body re-adapts to getting blood back to his brain.

“Without the constant pull-down of gravity, your body gets a whole new normal, and my body was quite happy living in space without gravity,” Hadfield, 53, said in a video conference call with Canadian reporters on Thursday, three days after returning to Earth.

The video conference was posted on the Canadian Space Agency’s UStream channel.

“Right after I landed I could feel the weight of my lips and tongue ... I hadn’t realized that I had learned to talk with a weightless tongue,” he said.

He is suffering overall body soreness, particularly in his neck and back which are again having to support his head after months in weightlessness.

“It feels like I played full-contact hockey, but it’s getting better by the hour,” Hadfield said. “The subtle things and the big things are taking some re-adaptation to get used to and they are coming back one by one.”

Hadfield, who is the first from Canada to command a space station crew, NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko landed in Kazakhstan on Monday. He and Marshburn were then flown to Houston to begin rehabilitation.

As a departing finale Hadfield created a music video rendering of Bowie’s classic “Space Oddity,” which as of Friday had 13 million hits on YouTube.

Hadfield, who is the lead singer and bass guitarist in the all-astronaut rock band Max Q, said it is too early to think about what he will do next.

“For now, I’m still trying to stand up straight. I have to sit down in the shower so I don’t faint and fall down, and I don’t have calluses on the bottom of my feet yet, so I’m walking around like I walked on hot coals,” he said.

It usually takes about three weeks until a returning astronaut can return to driving, according to the Canadian Space Agency.

“We’re sort of tottering around like two old duffers in an old folks home,” Hadfield said, referring to his crew mate Marshburn.

Hadfield’s orbital odyssey ended with a parachute descent of their Soyuz space capsule onto the steppes of Kazakhstan.

“We hit the Earth just like a car crash, like we expected,” Hadfield said. “There was enough wind so that we rolled up on our side. I was the guy hanging from the ceiling.”

“Our first true sense of being home was a window full of the dirt of the Earth and the smell of spring and the growing grasses in Kazakhstan wafting in through the open hatch,” he said.

Editing by David Adams and Jackie Frank