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Chris Hadfield and Dwight Drummond Talk Risk, Legacy, and Space

What does it mean to be innovative? For the past four years, Audi has explored how we manifest and harness innovation through its annual speaker showcase, Audi Innovation Series. Meant to spark a dialogue on the changing world around us, the series features various leaders every year who are known for changing the trajectory of their respective industries, with past guests including fashion icon Tommy Hilfiger, Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph, EGOT-winner Jennifer Hudson, and more. 

Now in its sixth year, the Audi Innovation Series welcomed astronaut and space traveller Chris Hadfield as its guest of honour. In a discussion with journalist Dwight Drummond, the duo discussed taking risks, legacy, and the future of space exploration.

The Audi Innovation Series often centres around exploration, innovation, and risk-taking. Would you classify yourself as a risk taker from an everyday standpoint?

Chris Hadfield: I think a lot of people conflate risk-takers with thrill seekers and no astronauts are thrill seekers. Not at all. […] But if something is worth doing, it’s almost always got some level of risk involved with it. The real question is, what do you want to accomplish in life? And then what are the risks? If you decide to be the person that’s going to take that risk, what do you do? Do you just cross your fingers and hope it goes okay? Or in my case do you then say, okay, I’ve decided I’m going to fly a rocket ship? I’ve got 25 years of work to get ready for that. I have no desire to take risks for no reason, but if it’s a risk worth taking, then I’m going to change who I am to try and win.

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What are you most excited for in the future of space travel and exploration?

Chris Hadfield: The thing that excites me the most [is whether] we are alone or not. We don’t know the answer. People think they saw UFOs and were looking at other planets. We’ve seen 5,000 planets around other stars. The James Webb telescope will be able to measure the atmosphere of planets that are around other stars. So, I think it’s a big question if we’re alone or not. If we aren’t alone, then what do we stand to learn? If we are alone, then we have a huge responsibility to not squander this shared intelligence and comprehension that we have and try and make sure we preserve it as long as we possibly can. 

Are you optimistic or concerned about this future? 

Chris Hadfield: It’s hard to get stuff done if you’re just a critic. The easiest job in the world is a critic. You don’t actually have to do the work. The optimists are the ones who can see a different future and are going to try and do the work to make that future a reality. I don’t know if that’s optimism or pragmatism, but I’m also aware from my time in space of the finite nature of the world, but also the incredible ancient history of it. Four and a half billion years, and it’s still here. We say the world is ruined. That’s kind of a self-importance thing. The world’s not going anywhere. There’s been life uninterrupted for four billion years on earth, so life’s not going anywhere. The real question is, how much responsibility do we want to shoulder for the quality of human life in a sustainable way? That’s the job that’s facing us. 

What do you hope is the most meaningful and lasting part of your legacy as an astronaut? 

Chris Hadfield: I took some risks, and I did things, from a Canadian perspective, as the very first [astronaut to be] celebrated on the back of our $5 bill. I was Canada’s first spacewalker, the only Canadian so far to command a spaceship. I took risks because I thought this is going to be opening a door that other people can go through and then open doors that I could never get to. And so as a legacy, hopefully, I have pushed back the edges of ignorance and opened up opportunities that didn’t used to exist. Hopefully, some people can make better decisions or different decisions with their lives based on some of the experiences that I’ve had in the lessons I’ve learned. But I’m just part of an enormously long continuum, and I’m aware of that. While my hands are pulling on the oars, I’m just trying to do the best job I possibly can.

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