Skip to main content

'Birdman' Follows A Film Actor Frantic To Prove Himself Onstage.

The choreography by Alejandro Iñárritu, who directed 21 Grams and Babel, will wow you. But the story about a washed-up actor about to bring off his Broadway debut is an "empty masterwork."



Related Topics

Other segments from the episode on October 17, 2014

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 17, 2014: Interview with Chris Hadfield; Review of the film "Birdman."


October 17, 2014

Guest: Chris Hadfield

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, in for Terry Gross.


CHRIS HADFIELD: (Singing) Ground control to Major Tom. Ground control to Major Tom.

BIANCULLI: While floating weightless in outer space at the International Space Station last spring, today's guest Commander Chris Hadfield recorded this version of David Bowie's "Space Oddity." It was turned into a video that had music rights permission to be posted for only one year. But during that year, it got more than 22 million hits on YouTube.

Hadfield has flown three space missions, conducted two spacewalks and spent a total of six months in space. He's witnessed awe-inspiring beauty, faced life-threatening dangers and held onto a spaceship orbiting Earth at 17,500 miles an hour. Hadfield is the author of the book "An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth" and a brand-new photo book called "You Are Here: Around The World In 92 Minutes."

A former Royal Canadian Air Force fighter and test pilot, he's been the director of operations of NASA in Star City, Russia and the chief of International Space Station operations in Houston. In space he served as the commander of the International Space Station.

Terry Gross spoke with Chris Hadfield in 2013 when his "Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth" was first published.


TERRY GROSS, HOST: Commander Hadfield, welcome to FRESH AIR. I just want to start with your "Major Tom" video, since that's gotten over 18 million views. Talk about going viral.


HADFIELD: That's crazy.

GROSS: So, is it hard to sing and play guitar in space?

HADFIELD: It is, actually. It was subtly hard. Singing, it's weird because your sinuses never drain without gravity. It's sort of like standing on your head forever, and no professional singer stands on their head forever before a performance, because it kind of fills up your tongue and your sinuses, and you sound a little bit congested. So it changed the timbre of my voice, for sure. And then guitar, when you move your left hand up and down the fret board, because the guitar is floating weightless, it kind of flies along with your hand. So you constantly miss with you left hand.


HADFIELD: Clumsy, popping recordings. So it's a little bit new to both sing and play up there, but with enough takes, eventually, you can get something that's worth listening to.

GROSS: How did you start doing videos in space about how to brush your teeth and make a peanut butter and honey burrito, a demo of how you sleep?

HADFIELD: I started making just little - what I hope were - insightful videos of, you know, how do you walk to work in Star City, Russia, or what does the simulator look like in Tsukuba, Japan? So it sort of set the stage. And then once I got to orbit, what really precipitated it for me was a can of peanuts. I opened up a can of peanuts, and when I looked inside, it looked like it was full of bees. And I just thought, wow, and I kind of, like, closed the lid again.


HADFIELD: But then I opened it again and realized it's just all these peanuts floating around in weightlessness, and it just looked so surprisingly cool. So I just grabbed my iPad and made a short, I don't know, 15-second video of nuts in a can, and sent it down to the space agency, and they put it out on the YouTube site, and it's been seen by millions and millions and millions of people. And it kind of just clicked in my mind - and in the space agency's mind, of course - that if we can show the experience using technology that exists, people's interest will drive them to it, and they will actually be curious.

GROSS: I just want to say thank you. I love that you've done that.


HADFIELD: You're welcome.

GROSS: That's great. So how many times were you actually out in space, out of the capsule, or out of the space station?

HADFIELD: Well, I've been so lucky to have done two spacewalks. If you looked at your wristwatch, I was outside about 15 hours, which is about 10 times around the world. And, you know, there's a whole time dilation, distortion thing.

GROSS: Excuse me, I just have to interrupt. I just have to interrupt and say that's just mindboggling.

HADFIELD: Oh, it's even more mindboggling if you're the human being out there doing it, Terry. It's - the contrast of your body and your mind inside a little one-person - essentially, a one-person spaceship, which is your little spacesuit, where you're holding on for dear life to the shuttle or the station with one hand, and you are inexplicably in between what is just a poring glory of the world roaring by silently next to you, just a kaleidoscope of it. It's just - you - it takes up your whole mind.

It's like the most beautiful thing you've ever seen just screaming at you on the right side. And when you look left, it's the whole bottomless black of the universe. And it goes in all directions. It's like a huge, yawning endlessness just on your left side. And you're in between those two things and trying to rationalize it to yourself and trying to get some work done.

GROSS: Now, during those 15 hours, when you were doing spacewalks, was there always a technical reason to be out there? Was it always part of the mission, or was it ever just...

HADFIELD: Oh yeah, we don't go out recreationally.


GROSS: You don't go out just to, like, you now, like, this is so cool, I'm just going to go outside and enjoy it?

HADFIELD: It's a really big deal to do a spacewalk. It's much riskier than staying indoors. It's complex. It uses up a lot of the precious resources onboard. It uses up oxygen. It uses up carbon dioxide scrubbers. You know, we only go out when we absolutely have to, whether it's to build something that takes the ingenuity and dexterity of a person, or if it's to fix something, if you had an emergency and you need to fix something that broke. And those are the only reasons we go outside. And we train for it in a detail you just wouldn't believe to make it go right.

GROSS: Now, you write in your book that, when you did a spacewalk, my number one concern was to avoid floating off into space, which is a pretty major concern.

HADFIELD: It seems like a good idea. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. So how are you tethered to - what was it, the space station that you were tethered to?

HADFIELD: When I did my spacewalks, it was during space station construction. So the shuttle was docked to the fledgling ISS at the time. So we would always stay tethered.

GROSS: The ISS is the International Space Station.

HADFIELD: Yeah, that's right, International Space Station. Sorry for the acronym. Tethered means basically like a clothesline that you have clipped somewhere on structure. So you're either clipped to the shuttle or to the space station somewhere. There's little handrails and loops and things you can attach to.

And you go from one to the other, like a high building construction worker or something. So you're always tied off, so that if your hand did slip and you started drifting off into space, I mean, there's nobody who could come rescue you. So, you have a tether. And it reels out to about 50 or 60 feet long, if it had to. But you also wear a jetpack, just in case that tether were to fail. You could pull down a handle on your right side. A little joystick pops out in front of you. You grab it, you turn it on, and then you can fly yourself with just a simple system of a nitrogen tank and little thrusters. But you could fly yourself over and grab back onto the mothership.

GROSS: Tell us something else that you saw during a spacewalk that has nothing comparable on Earth.

HADFIELD: I was coming across the Indian Ocean in the dark. I was riding on the end of the robot arm. So I had some time. I was actually carrying a bunch of laundry, because they had - we'd deployed a new piece, and it had blankets on it, thermal blankets. So, basically, it was like riding a cherry-picker back, carrying a big bag of laundry in my arms.

So I didn't have much to do until the arm could get me back. Coming across the Indian Ocean, coming up on Australia, I thought, I want to look at Australia in the dark, because everyone lives along the coast, starting with Perth and across, and it's like a necklace of cities.

So I shut off my lights, and I let my eyes completely adjust to the darkness. But as we came south, under Australia, instead of seeing just the lights of the cities of Australia, we flew into the Southern Lights. And just like the Northern Lights, they erupt out of the world, and they - it's almost as if, like, someone has put on this huge, fantastic laser light show for thousands of miles. And the colors, of course, with your naked eye, are so much more vivid than just a camera.

They're greens and yellows and reds and oranges, and they poured up under my feet. I mean, I just - the ribbons and curtains of it. It's just - it was surreal to look at, driving through the Southern Lights. And I said to Jeff, who was - Jeff Ashby, who was driving the arm, I said Jeff, you've got to see this, the Southern Lights.

So the arm jerked to a stop, and they shut off all the lights in the shuttle and put their noses to the glass and looked at the lights with me for a while until we skirted just a couple minutes, skirted across Australia and back up across New Zealand and into the sunrise.

GROSS: Your longest mission was 146 days in space. I think during that one trip, you orbited Earth 2,336 times and traveled almost 62 miles. You probably hear...

HADFIELD: Sixty-two million miles.

GROSS: I'm sorry, 62 million miles. Yes. You probably hear a lot of frequent flyer jokes. So I will not bother to make any. And you see another sunrise every 92 minutes, which must be very odd and disorienting.

HADFIELD: They happen really fast, the sunrises. Sometimes you specifically set the alarm on your watch to go watch the sunrise. And as you pull yourself down into the floor - and that's where the huge, bulging window is, that we call the cupola - and there's the world glowing dark underneath you. And you start to see a few faint tinges of a sunrise coming as it starts to light the upper atmosphere, and then bam. The sun just pops into view, roars into view, because we're coming around the world at it so fast.

And you can actually watch the sun move away from the Earth. And the light from it initially comes through the atmosphere. So the whole station glows with the light of dawn, with - all the big solar rays glow blood red, and then orange. And then, as the sun clears the atmosphere, and it's directly on us, then they settle down to sort of an iridescent blue. And then you can see the dawn come across the world towards you.

And then you go back to work and wait another 92 minutes, and it happens again. It's not to be missed, and I tried to watch as many sunrises and sunsets as the work would allow.



GROSS: I'm thinking of the contrast between the claustrophobia you must experience when you're in the space shuttle or the space station, compared to the sense of the infinite when you're out on a spacewalk.

HADFIELD: They don't want claustrophobic astronauts. And so NASA is careful, through selection, to try and see if you have a natural tendency to be afraid of small spaces or not. And really, it's good if you've managed to find a way to deal with all of your fears, especially the irrational ones. So during selection, in fact, they zip you inside a ball, and they don't tell you how long they're going to leave you in there.

And so I think if you had tendencies toward claustrophobia, then that would probably panic you, and they would use it as a discriminator to decide whether they are going to hire you or not. For me, being zipped inside a small, dark place for an indeterminate amount of time was just a great opportunity, a nice time to think and maybe have a little nap and relax. And so it doesn't bother me.

But you can get claustrophobia and agoraphobia - a fear of wide, open spaces - simultaneously on a spacewalk. You are enclosed inside your little spacesuit with a helmet and a, like, a cap on, a Snoopy cap, and some microphones right down touching your mouth, and stuff in front of your face and your whole body enclosed. If you are susceptible to claustrophobia, that might be a trigger.

But when you look outside, when you look through your visor, you are standing on nothing, with 250 miles of emptiness between you and the world.

BIANCULLI: Commander Chris Hadfield speaking to Terry Gross in 2013. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2013 interview with Commander Chris Hadfield. The astronaut and author has written a memoir called "An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth" and has a new photo book called "You Are Here: Around The World In 92 Minutes."


GROSS: One of the exercises that you basically put yourself through in preparing - or that NASA puts you through in preparing to be an astronaut is what you describe as what's the next thing that will kill me because there are so many things that can go wrong and be life-threatening in space. Give us a sense of what that what's the next thing that will kill me training process is like.

HADFIELD: Terry, I found it to be so helpful in my regular life, and I didn't mean it to be that way. But of course as an astronaut, especially during launch, half of the risk of a six-month flight is in the first nine minutes. So as a crew, how do you stay focused, and how do you not get paralyzed by the fear of it? And the way we do it is to break down what are the risks. And a nice way to keep reminding yourself is what's the next thing that's going to kill me. And it might be five seconds away, it might be an inadvertent engine shutdown, or it might be staging of the solid rockets coming off, or it might be, you know, some transition or some key next thing. We've already, say, had one computer fail, and we've had one hydraulic system fail, so if these three things fail, now we're, you know, we need to react right away, or we're done.

HADFIELD: So we don't just live with that, though. And the thing that is really useful, I think, out of all this is we dig into it so deeply, and we look at OK, so this might kill us. This is something that would normally panic us. Let's get ready. Let's think about it. And we go into every excruciating detail of why that might affect what we're doing and what we can do to resolve it and have a plan and be comfortable with it and practice is.

GROSS: And you say in order to make this work, you have to neutralize fear.

HADFIELD: Yeah, but, I mean, it's not like astronauts are braver than other people. We're just, you know, meticulously prepared. We dissect what it is that is going to scare us and what it is that is a threat to us, and then we practice over and over again so that the natural, irrational fear is neutralized.

And your first reaction is not just to scream and flee with your hands waving over your head, but in fact, to go hey, we thought about this, and I know that this is dangerous, but there are six things that I could do right now, all of which will help make things better.

And it's worth remembering, too, there's no problem so bad that you can't make it worse also.


GROSS: Thank you.

HADFIELD: So you have to practice and learn what's the right thing to do. But given that, it actually gives you a really great comfort. It's counterintuitive, you know, to visualize disaster, but by visualizing disaster, that's what keeps us alive.

GROSS: Tell us about one of the most dangerous things that went wrong during one of your spacewalks.

HADFIELD: Probably the most dangerous time was, I was working away, I was operating the great big pistol-grip tool, it looks like an enormous electric drill. I was tightening up some bolts, building a huge mechanical robot arm, the cannon arm two, and suddenly my left eye stopped working.

And there had been some little balls of water floating around inside my helmet, in my water bag that we get drinking water out of, it's like a little CamelBak, it had been leaking slightly. But my eye just stung, you know, like a hornet had stung it or something. It just hurt, and it slammed itself shut, and I couldn't see through it.

And I tried to open it, and, you know, when your eye has really been hurt, you just can't open it and look through it. And I couldn't rub it because it's inside my helmet. And I tried to touch something with my eye, but it's inside like a fishbowl. I couldn't do anything.

So I thought, well, I can still hear, I can still breathe, I can still see, and one of my eyes is working perfectly. So maybe it's just a transient thing; I'll keep on working. But what I hadn't really thought through was that my eye would start tearing, crying of course, just like the good flushing reaction, you know, that works on Earth, but tears in space, tears don't fall. They just build up a big ball of contaminated tear on your eye, and it doesn't drain the bad stuff away, it squirts in new tear.

So I get this bigger and bigger ball of whatever that stuff was on my left eye until, unfortunately, the ball got big enough that it went across the bridge of my nose into my right eye. And now suddenly, instantly, both my eyes are blind. And try as I might, I couldn't get them open. All I could see was a complete blur.

So now it was time to fess up, and, you know, Houston I have a problem. And I could just - I used to work in Mission Control. I was the chief cap-com for NASA for about 25 shuttle flights. So I worked as a cap-com in Mission Control, cap-com being the astronaut that talks to the crews in orbit. So I really understand how that room works and how the flight director or the doctors and everybody would react when I told them that I was blind on a spacewalk.

And they went into hyper-mode, and, you know, good calming voices, but coming up with lots of, you know, reactions that would try and fix my eyes or diagnose the problem. They thought maybe I had a problem where the chemical that purifies our air was maybe leaking into the suit, and some of the early symptoms are eye irritation. And - but it also really hurts your lungs.

So they said, strangely enough, their first big recommendation was we'd like you to open the purge valve on the side of your helmet and start dumping your oxygen out to space. So I'm just kind of smiling to myself, thinking this is not how I thought my first spacewalk was going to go, where I'm blinded, and now I open a hole, and I'm listening to a very limited supply of oxygen hiss out into the universe.

And I just kept blinking and crying and blinking and crying, and after a while, I thought maybe I could start to see just a little bit. It took about - I don't know, about a half-hour, I think, and then I finished the spacewalk.

And it turned out to just be the stuff we put on the visor to make it not fog up. It was sort of like a soapy, oily kind of chemical, that no-fog stuff. But a floating ball of water had picked up the no-fog stuff, and it's just as if I'd taken the no-fog and squirted it into my eyeball.

GROSS: What about your sense of orientation and your sense of balance if you can't see, and you're, you know, orbiting in space?

HADFIELD: You know, that's a really perceptive question because a lot of people don't think about that, even astronauts, what does it feel like when you close your eyes when you're weightless. Normally on Earth when you close your eyes, you can feel your feet on the floor, your rear end on your chair or something, and that gives you a sense of up, and you can balance with your eyes closed. You can walk with your eye closed because of all of the external references.

When you're weightless, and you close your eyes, it's as if you just stepped off a cliff into complete blackness and you're falling forever. And so the perception of that is really odd. And you can do it as like a thought experiment, and instead of just closing your eyes and thinking that you're floating, close your eyes and picture that you've just stepped off the half-dome in Yosemite and are now falling into the blackness.

And it's interesting to see how your body reacts to it because that's a real fear-making thing, normally.

BIANCULLI: Astronaut and author Chris Hadfield speaking to Terry Gross in 2013. We'll continue their conversation in the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli and this is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross, back with more of Terry's 2013 interview with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. He's written a memoir called "An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth" and a new photo book called "You Are Here: Around The World In 92 Minutes." Hadfield flew three space missions, did two spacewalks and spent a total of six months in space. He's served as the commander of the International Space Station. And on Earth, he's been the chief of International Space Station operations in Houston, and director of operations for NASA in Star City, Russia.


GROSS: You had to do technical work in space. What are some of the problems of working in a weightless, gravity-less atmosphere?

HADFIELD: It's really non-intuitive. Having grown up and adapted and expected everything to behave like it is on Earth. You know, if you drop your hammer, it falls to the floor. If you could let go of a little tiny washer, it doesn't float up and back behind your ear. Something like a fuse, you know, just in a fuse box. You know how it works on Earth; there's a little too much electricity, we don't want to burn up the house. So this little tiny fuse, there's a little skinny bit of metal in the middle and it gets hot and melts and then it falls away and it breaks the electrical circuit - right? Nice, simple Earth bound design. Well, if you have a fuse like that in space, of course, the little fuse will get hot and melt, but it won't drop away because there's no gravity, so the current will continue to flow through the fuse until something else gets hot.

So something as simple as a fuse or a fan on a projector or all kinds of stuff where you're counting on convection and gravity, they're all have to be rethought. And it catches you unawares, all the time. Trying to do up my shoe to go running on the treadmill, you know, it's so easy on Earth, you bend over, do up your shoe. But if you think about it, when you're doing up your running shoes, you are using both hands and one foot. And so there's nothing to hold you in place anymore, you always sit down or lean on something on Earth but in space, suddenly you're this uncontrolled, 180 pound mass bouncing off everything else because you're just, you got no free hands anymore and you're just trying to do up your shoes. So something as esoteric as designing cooling systems for standard equipment or something as prosaic as just doing up your shoes, you have to rethink it all in order to not be clumsy but also to be successful when you go to a new environment like that.

GROSS: There are so many times when I'm on my computer and it freezes or, you know, I get that ball that goes around and round and round or like the old-fashioned buffering. Have you had the equivalent in space where like a really important computer just has a really, like, standard frustrating problem but it's like, it's your life at stake here?

HADFIELD: Fairly early on when I was on the space station in this half-year trip up there, Terry, we were doing a major computer upgrade. It had been tested on the ground. And computers run the space station. It's not run by switches and knobs, it's run by computers and software. And we were doing a major upgrade, and it had been tested left, right and center and all the simulators on the ground and we were already for it and, you know, Houston said it was in our plans and everything. Here we go. OK, three, two, one (mimicking a computer shutting down) and everything quit. And the fans were shutting off and we couldn't communicate with the ground and all the software locked up and nothing was working. And suddenly, we were really helpless because a lot of the safety of the space station is controlled by what we would react to on the computer. A lot of the insight we have, whether there's smoke somewhere or whether something is malfunctioning is told to us by the computers and we had a full lockup. And it's not just your laptop quitting and not getting to your email for a minute, it's the actual control of the whole spaceship. So not a shining moment for us as a crew. But we'd been trained for it.

And so we ran around the ship, checking to see the status of everything. We became sort of the canaries in the mine of knowing that our smoke detectors wouldn't work and so racing around to make sure that seeing if there's smoke somewhere. We were coming up across the Pacific and about across South America, so I got on the HAM radio - the amateur radio - and tried to talk to people in Brazil. So I'm listening to these guys chattering in Portuguese, which while I'm trying to say hey, I'd like to break in and could you please call Houston so to tell them we can't talk to them anymore and this is what we're doing. But, meanwhile, Tom and Kevin and I - Kevin was the commander of the ship at the time, Kevin Ford - there's a whole backup booting sort of software that's called Mighty Mouse and we dug into Mighty Mouse and we went into the backup procedures. And have - we bring paper procedures up just in case the digital ones let us down.

And we - it was actually a really fun moment for the crew because we trained for this sort of thing. And Kevin the commander was behind us with the procedure. Tom and I were the two guys entering the procedures, checking each other out, you know, to command challenge response type of procedures, checking through it, ticking through it. It took several hours getting ready as we came across Russia. Because when we came over the Russian ground sites we could use the assets in the Russian end of the station just for the straight radio, like a VHF radio, just to talk directly. So we had our big list of questions and Houston got ready, so when we came over Russia there was this high speed communication of trying to tell us what to do next and then we went silent after we crossed over the Sea of Japan, worked again for the whole way around the world try to get, bring all the, nurse them back to life - all the computers back to life. And I think it took two times around the world. But after that we had things fixed, got things back to life, had reverted to the old software and then, of course, the experts on the ground tried to figure out what little glitch had gone wrong. It ended up being, you know, just a small subtle thing but something they could fix and then we could upgrade the system later.

But, you know, we spent decades training for what we're supposed to do up there. We have to be the geek squad, you know, the guys that show up to fix your computer, we are those guys. So fortunately, we could deal with it.

GROSS: Wow. Would you describe what it's like to reenter the Earth's atmosphere?

HADFIELD: It's like riding inside a blast furnace. You come into the upper atmosphere and it gets to 3,000 degrees on the outside of the ship. You can see the orange and yellow flames licking around your vehicle. You can hear the metal responding to the heat. In the Soyuz, the little Russian capsule, you can actually hear the banging of the big shield, the big heat shield on the bottom as it slowly erodes away from the heat and pieces of it fly off like sparks across your window and it's an interesting thing to ride through, you know...


HADFIELD: makes you think, riding as this little bubble inside a blast furnace. And there's nowhere to put your heat, you know, you can't get colder while you're inside that. There is no - the ship gets warmer and warmer. The shuttle came back because its purpose was to carry big cargo home. Then we could put a huge telescope or payload in the back like a great big dump truck. It had wings and it could come back so gently and be not much different - once you've made it through the hot part - not much different than an airliner, maybe slightly more force but then circle around, just a glider, didn't have engines, but come down and land either in California at Edwards, where I used to be a test pilot, or on a runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida right where we launched from. So that was relatively comfortable.

The Soyuz though, it's a very simple, rugged, tough little design and it's more like riding a meteorite. And if you do everything perfectly you come in with a lot of vibration and about four times your weight with 4G. So after being weightless for half a year, it's really unfair to have to get squished like that. And if it goes a little bit wrong, it reverts to a mode where you don't fly it at all, just ballistic. And then you pull about eight or 9G, which is that would be hard on anybody, let alone someone who has been thinking they are Superman flying around elegantly for so long. And then the parachute opens very violently, but then you're just coming down under a parachute but you're bracing yourself for that last second, which is impact with the world. And, you know, the Soyuz craft weighs tons and you're lying on the floor of it on your back. But the Russians to tell you, remember, before you land stop talking so you don't bite your tongue off.

GROSS: Oh, God.

HADFIELD: That's how violent the landing's going to be and it hits the ground. There's little retro rockets that fire and they cushion it but it still hits the ground like a car crash. And we land on the prairies of Kazakhstan and so it's always windy. So you don't just come straight down and go plunk, you hit the ground and then you tumble end over end in this little thing and finally it rolls to a stop. And it's...

GROSS: How come you don't break all your bones? Because you've lost bone mass in space, that's one of the physiological changes - one of the unfortunate ones that astronauts experience. So how do your bones survive a crash like that?

HADFIELD: They pour us a special crash seat, like a Formula One driver. And it's funny, they put you in this tub and they pour gypsum in around you and they make a perfect mold of your rear end to build this crash seat from. So in the museum on the outskirts of Moscow, there's a beautiful rear end exhibit of every cosmonaut astronaut who has ever flown to the Soyuz, how we all looked.


HADFIELD: But they build you a crash seat that supports your lower back and your neck and your head so that when you hit the ground, you won't break any, you know, your spine or your neck, then you put your hands in a position so that they're not going to flail. And your legs actually have this like a brassiere cross strap that's latched your knees down so your legs don't splay out and rip out your tendons or break a bone. And in truth, we do get osteoporosis because of the weightlessness but we're learning how to beat it. And the only part of my skeleton that got reduced density was just across my hip and my upper femur. And I did lose bone there, especially the - sort of the spongy bone so now my bone is much more brittle and liable to break. But what's interesting Terry, is it's reversing. As I'm sitting here talking to you, I am re-growing bone and my osteoporosis - it's a type of osteoporosis - is reversing. So there's something going on in the body that we would really dearly love to know how it's actually doing it that can reverse some of the effects of osteoporosis. And after, about a year after I get back, so next spring, I should have the same skeleton that I launched with. And so I'm a big lab rat right now that they're studying to try and understand both the fragility of my hip cradle as it exists right now, and how the body is deciding to grow that spongy trabecular bone back.

GROSS: Oh, it would be great if one of the results of the space program was researched that helped reverse or prevent osteoporosis.

HADFIELD: Oh, it is, in fact, because we used to get it's much more prevalently across our body. And we've designed equipment on board, exercise equipment that specifically targets those parts of the body so that we don't lose bone in those areas. And we just haven't got it completely solved yet. But we have a form of a treadmill with big bungees, and a sort of a bicycle with no seat on it and then a big resistive exercise machine. And we work out two hours a day, seven days a week the whole time we're up there justified muscle loss, but also to keep, force your body into keeping a strong skeleton. And we're learning a lot from that and people are publishing papers all the time talking about how to avoid the effects of typical aging on Earth.

BIANCULLI: Commander Chris Hadfield speaking to Terry Gross in 2013. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2013 interview with Commander Chris Hadfield. The former astronaut is the author of "An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth" and he has a new photo book called "You Are Here: Around The World In 92 Minutes."


GROSS: You write that for every day in space, you need a day on Earth to physically recover because your body goes through so many physiological changes while you're in a weightless atmosphere in space. And you compare it to the physiological changes of aging, your arteries harden, your bones start to thin. So just tell us, physically, what it feels like as you're adjusting to gravity back on Earth. What are some of the most aggravating parts of that?

HADFIELD: When you first get back it's like you just got off the worst ride at the fair. The thing that spins you and tumbles you and you're afraid you're going to throw up at any second. Or you may have already thrown up, in fact, because it just messes up your inner ear so badly. And when you first come back to Earth, that's how you feel. It's awful. You know, nobody likes feeling like they're on the verge of throwing up, you know, the sweats that come with that and the exhaustion and your body's reactions to it. So I felt like that for days and it's not pleasant. You can't get the blood in your head anymore. Your body has forgotten how to squeeze the blood all the way from the tips of your toes all the way up to your heart...


HADFIELD: ...into your head. Your body just hasn't had to do it for months and months. It hasn't had to lift the blood against gravity. So you actually wear like Spanx or wear a G-Suit on your calf and your thigh and your lower body like holding the bottom of a balloon in your hand to squeeze the top to make it bulge. You have to wear that for several days. So those take some getting used to. And you're so clumsy when you walk. You know, it's like you're drunk, or super tired or you're just staggering around. They won't let us drive, of course, for a while and we can't fly airplanes for quite a while. But after about a month I felt reasonably normal, but I couldn't run. As your legs pound into the pavement, it's sort of like throwing the blood at the ground that's in your legs. You know, like dropping a balloon of blood down each time, the acceleration of your legs and the running. And my body just couldn't get the blood back up to my head. And so running is - it took about four months before I felt normal running again.

GROSS: I'm wondering about the transformative nature of the experience of being in space and doing space walks. I don't know if you were ever religious or not. Either way, I'm wondering if being in space changed your concept of your place in the universe and whether any sense of spirituality or organized religion or a God figures into that or not, as a result.

HADFIELD: It's an amazing place to think about that topic. You know, picture yourself separated from the other six and a half, seven billion people where you can see them all from a distance. You know, every 90 minutes you go around and the world turns underneath you like a big jewel. And you have left all of them and you're looking at - it's almost like a God-like view of the world, right?

At least our limited human understanding of what that God-like view might be, looking down almost paternally on everybody. And so it really makes you think. And the world, you look at it, it just can't be random, looking at it. I mean, it's so different than the vast emptiness that is everything else. And even all the other planets we've seen, you know, at least in our solar system, you know, none of them even remotely resembled the precious life-giving nature of our own planet.

Maybe there's life on Mars too, but the big pervasive feeling onboard looking at the Earth is one of tremendous, exquisite privilege that it exists. And so we talk about religion onboard all the time. And we have all different faiths. You know, because the astronauts come from all around the world - cosmonauts. I mean we respect each other's faiths.

And I hate to talk publicly about my own just because people really get a lot of strength out of their own set of beliefs, and if you start talking in depth about your own, you are excluding other people who have different faiths that give them strength. And there's no point in that. I have huge respect for how people get strength and the faith that gives that to them.

And I think what everyone would find, if they could be in that position, if they could see the whole world every 90 minutes and look down on the places where we do things right and look down where we're doing stupid, brutal things to each other and the inevitable patience of the world that houses us, I think everybody would be reinforced in their faith.

And maybe readdress the real true tenets of what's good and what gives them strength.

GROSS: So you do have a faith. I'm not asking you to tell us what it is, but you do have a faith, a religious faith, and felt that that was affirmed in space.

HADFIELD: Oh, absolutely. The things that you believe that give you the strength, I mean there are no wishy-washy astronauts. You know, you don't get up there by being uncaring and blase. And whatever gave you the sense of tenacity and purpose to get that far in life is absolutely reaffirmed and deepened by the experience itself.

GROSS: I want to thank you so much for the work that you've done in space, for the risks you've taken, and for the wonderful videos that you've sent that are so enlightening about - and fun - about what life in space is like. You know, an interesting thing about talking to you and reading your book - it's like one of the extra qualifications that you brought to your work as an astronaut is your ability to be a reporter, to describe so well what it is that you've seen and then send us back reports.


GROSS: You know, for those of us who aren't experts.

HADFIELD: Space correspondent.

GROSS: Yes, exactly.


GROSS: No. It's a wonderful thing. So thank you for all that. I wish you all the best and thanks for doing this interview.

HADFIELD: Thanks very much, Terry. It's been tremendous fun, the whole thing. It's a wonderful adventure and I count myself so lucky to have been a part of it.

BIANCULLI: Astronaut and author Chris Hadfield speaking to Terry Gross in 2013. His new book of photos from space is called "You Are Here: Around The World In 92 Minutes."

Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews "Birdman," the new film starring Michael Keaton. This is FRESH AIR.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. The new film "Birdman" closed the recent New York Film Festival and has been mentioned as a likely awards contender. It's directed by Alejandro Inarritu, best known for the films "Babel" and "21 Grams," and stars Michael Keaton as an actor much like Michael Keaton. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: You'll probably be wowed by "Birdman" by how the camera hurdles after characters in what's made to look like a single, fluid, movie-long take, transcending space and often time, even soaring off into fantasy while viscerally evoking the desperation of a washed-up film actor to bring off his Broadway debut. You should be wowed. I was, too. And I didn't even like the movie. I had to marvel at director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's choreography at the go-for-broke performances. The film is an empty masterwork.

Michael Keaton plays the actor Riggan Thomson. And who doesn't want to see him - Keaton, I mean - back on top? He gave us "Beetlejuice" the bio-exorcist, one of the modern screens' most rollicking comic creations. And he proved his straight-acting chops in movies like "Clean And Sober" and, yes, "Batman." Riggan, like Keaton, made his fortune in the role of a superhero - Birdman. But after a long, fallow period, he's frantic to prove himself in a self-penned, self-directed adaptation of Raymond Carver's story collection "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." That camera trails him from his dressing room, often chased by Zach Galifianakis as his harried producer, past Naomi Watts as an insecure actress and Edward Norton as her hot dog-actor boyfriend with periodic harangues by a fiercely overacting Emma Stone as Riggan's fresh-from-rehab daughter. Between clashes, Riggan is taunted by the voice of his old character, Birdman, who reminds him of his sorry state - how the super-heroic have fallen. On the street, Riggan fights with Norton's Mike who just made a ruckus in rehearsal. They pass a drummer who turns up periodically in the film to make your heart beat even faster.


MICHAEL KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson) Let's go. Walk.

EDWARD NORTON: (As Mike Shiner) Where are we going?

KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson) To get you some coffee. Did I do something to disrespect you?

NORTON: (As Mike Shiner) Not yet.

KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson) Look, I have a lot riding on this [bleep] play.

NORTON: (As Mike Shiner) Oh, is that right?

KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson)Yeah, people know who I am.

NORTON: (As Mike Shiner) They don't know you, your work, man. They know the guy from the bird suit who goes and tells coy his slightly vomitous stories on "Letterman."

KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson) Oh, I'm sorry if I'm popular, Mike.

NORTON: (As Mike Shiner) Popular? I don't give a [bleep] - popular? Popularity is this bloody little cousin of prestige, my friend.

KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson) OK. I don't even know what that means so...

NORTON: (As Mike Shiner) It means - it means my reputation is riding on this, and that's worth...

KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson) A lot.

NORTON: (As Mike Shiner) A lot, exactly, yes. If this doesn't work out for you, you [bleep] back to your studio pals and dive back into that cultural genocide you guys are perpetrating. You know a douche bag's born every minute. That was P.T. Barnum's premise when he invented the circus, and nothing much has changed. And you guys know that if you crank out any toxic piece of crap, people will line up and pay to see it. But long after you're gone I'm going to be on that stage earning my living, baring my soul, wrestling with complex human emotions 'cause that's what we do.

KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson) Oh, so that - is that what tonight was about? You wrestling with complex emotions?

NORTON: (As Mike Shiner) No. Tonight was just about seeing if it's even alive, seeing if it can breathe. This isn't the back lot, Riggan. This is New York City. This is how we do things.

EDELSTEIN: Norton is one of "Birdman's" bright spots. His character exists on a level of jerky entitlement that's positively mythic. But what comes out of the other character's mouths is not so fresh. We learn that Riggan wasn't there for his daughter growing up, that he was lousy to his wife, played by Amy Ryan, and that he has an actress girlfriend, played by Andrea Riseborough, to whom he can't make the ultimate commitment. Mostly, Riggan marinates in self-pity. For all his energy, he's tiresome. The movie grinds you down. And when Riggan takes off into the air like a bird, it means nothing. The magic realism is only there to psych you out.

And director Inarritu never bothers to tell us if this stage adaptation of Raymond Carver deserves to succeed, if it's good. The snippets we see are stilted, though the audience looks enraptured. I don't think he has much respect for the medium of theater.

I admit that "Birdman," which carries the subtitle or the unexpected virtue of ignorance, didn't endear me with its nasty jabs at critics. The low point is a scene with a smug New York Times chief drama critic played by Lindsay Duncan. She pens her reviews improbably in a theater district bar, and tells Riggan that sight unseen, she'll destroy his show because he's a movie star, as if critics these days aren't delighted along with everyone else to see film actors test themselves on stage and fill houses. But I actually do agree with Inarritu that a lot of critics are intellectual peons. How else to explain the rave reviews he got for the pretend depths of his movies "21 Grams" and "Babel" and "Biutiful"?

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


He's edited Caro, le Carré and 'Catch-22,' but doesn't mind if you don't know his name

At 91, Robert Gottlieb is perhaps the most acclaimed book editor of his time. He started out in 1955 and has been working in publishing ever since. The list of authors he's edited include Robert Caro, Joseph Heller, Toni Morrison, John le Carré, Katharine Graham, Bill Clinton, Nora Ephron and Michael Crichton. His daughter Lizzie Gottlieb's new film, Turn Every Page, centers on her father's decades-long editing relationship with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Caro.


Sleekly sentimental, 'Living' plays like an 'Afterschool Special' for grownups

Living, is a sleekly sentimental new British drama adapted by Kazuo Ishiguro from Akira Kurosawa's classic 1952 film Ikiru, which means "to live" in Japanese. Starring the great Bill Nighy, it tells the story of a bottled-up bureaucrat in 1950s London who's led to examine the way he's spent the last 30 years of his life.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue