Northern Ireland

Chris Hadfield, the Singing Spaceman, drops in on Belfast

The Canadian astronaut who captivated the world with his photos from the International Space Station has dropped in on Belfast for the first time.

Cmdr Chris Hadfield, 54, became known as the Singing Spaceman after his version of David Bowie's Space Oddity went viral on the internet.

He also sang Danny Boy in space on St Patrick's Day.

After visits to Dublin, Donegal and Armagh, the first stop on his tour of Belfast on Tuesday was the Titanic Visitor Centre.

Asked to describe how it felt to walk in space, he compared it to a scene from the film Titanic.

He said: "It's very slightly like, as was portrayed in the movie Titanic, where if you can stand right at the very front and put your hands out, you don't even see the ship behind you any more and instead you feel yourself floating alone."

He took an estimated 45,000 photographs from space and shared many of them on social media. He has more one million followers worldwide on Twitter.

'Green jewel'

Last year, he became the first person to tweet from space using the Irish language.

Image caption Chris Hadfield's version of Space Oddity went viral on the internet

He thanked his followers in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for their responses to his pictures of Ireland sent from space.

He said: "The traditional name is the Emerald Isle and when you see the entire island from orbit, from millions of feet up, it is indeed emerald, it is a green jewel.

"When you cross the Atlantic the first thing you see, even at 17,500 miles an hour, is Ireland.

"And now to be visiting and meeting people, going around the schools and just seeing the raw natural beauty of it as well, it is a beautiful place. Who could not enjoy it?

"The warmth of emotion from people right across the island was delightful.

"All countries and places are graced with a certain sense of geology and geography and overlaid on that is history, but what's really important is the people."

Learned Irish

On Monday evening, he went to a pub in Donegal, had a drink, played a guitar and sang Danny Boy.

The Canadian astronaut has no direct Irish family history. He has Yorkshire roots on his father's side and Scottish roots on his mother's side.

He has learned some Irish on his five-day visit, during which he is doing promotional work for Tourism Ireland.

His daughter, Kristen, is studying in Dublin and he said her love of Ireland had proved to be "contagious".

Irish Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said: "Having seen Ireland from space, it's great to be able to give Chris Hadfield a closer look at what Ireland has to offer on the ground."

Last summer, Cmdr Hadfield retired from the Canadian Space Agency.

He said space travel was an "exhilarating ride" but that he did not miss it.

"I've ridden three rockets to space, three different trips over 21 years as an astronaut, and the launch is immensely powerful.

"It's as if you're in the jaws of some enormous dog shaking you, while at the same time there's some relentless boot of someone in the small of your back pushing you faster and faster and faster.

'Weightlessness'

"It's a vigorous, mentally challenging and exhilarating ride. I recommend it very highly.

"I don't spend much time looking backwards wishing I was somewhere else doing something else.

"There is so much challenge in life, so many things to do, so much to learn, so many people I haven't met, places, just life is a delight.

Image caption Chris Hadfield in the Titanic Belfast building during his visit to the city

"I really enjoyed the time that I had the three flights in orbit, the freedom of it, the beauty of weightlessness and the views of the world.

"But at the same time, I was there half a year and took 45,000 pictures and really tried to live that life as fully as possible.

"It's not so much that I miss it as it was such an enriching time and now there's a great time to reflect and share it as best as I can."

Cmdr Hadfield said he had spoken to children at an Irish language school on the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal, and that the teachers there had turned his visit into an entire educational time.

"They had made a space shuttle out of papier mâché, they had put posters on the wall, they had been studying space, the kids had used this as a way to push back the edges of their horizons, and that is really my motivation.

"I've spoken over the years at thousands of schools and to see some experience that I've been part of, to help push back the understanding and horizons of someone else to maybe expand someone else's anticipation of what they might do, to me that is really vital to doing the whole thing.

"So, not just to share the experience, but to let other people see the opportunity that lies therein at a personal level, for me that's the ultimate motivation."

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