Chris Hadfield Tells the Story of Covering Bowie in Space


It’s been over a year since David Bowie’s death, but in a new age of increased space exploration, the Starman won’t soon be forgotten — least of all by retired astronaut Chris Hadfield.

You might recall a certain video which made Hadfield internet-famous. The one where he plays an acoustic cover of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” while floating around weightlessly in the middle of the International Space Station, back in 2013. That video.

An avid musician, the Canadian astronaut played and recorded music in space for much of his December 2012-May 2013 mission aboard the ISS, some 220 miles above Earth. He memorably covered “Hallelujah,” Leonard Cohen’s haunting, uplifting, beauty, but his version of “Space Oddity” is perhaps best remembered. Up in space, shelled up in the middle of a piece of equipment orbiting the planet, he realized the 1969 song’s otherworldly wonder.

“He wrote that song when he was still a teenager,” Hadfield tells Inverse. “There had only been 25 space flights total when he wrote that song. Nobody had been to the moon yet. He was guessing, but he was fascinated by space exploration.”

That same fascination with space exploration would define Bowie’s later songs like “Life on Mars” and “Starman.”

“He dreamed about it,” said Hadfield. “He wanted to be able to have that as part of his life.”

(Hadfield’s Bowie story comes at the end of the video above.)

Hadfield got to meet Bowie as a result of his cover going viral. “To me, that was the best part of it — that he loved [my] version of [Space Oddity],” he said. “That vision that he’d had when he was 19 or 20, becoming real, and his song being sung in a spaceship.”

“Earlier this year, I played with his band here in New York, honoring him and what would have been his 70th birthday. Nobody in the audience wanted him to be gone. Nobody in the band [too] … Celebrating Bowie, they played here and in L.A. and in Tokyo and in London, celebrating the artistic and brave vision that he carried through his whole life.”

Though Bowie never actually jetted off into space or pioneered the adventure into any tangible great unknown, Hadfield believes his music was a pioneering spirit in itself. “To me, he was such a delightful, creative force artistically, but that’s often where our greatest inspiration comes,” he said. “Our artists and our writers imagine things that then allow us to maybe picture ourselves doing those, and then the inventors move on afterwards. Bowie was one of those artists.”

Here’s Bowie’s original:

Hadfield has a new documentary series, Miniverse, about the solar system, which premiered this week on CuriosityStream.

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