Shadowing Chris Hadfield — The Best Day of My Life (So Far)

Key Takeaways from Attending The CDL Space Stream.

Friendly note: This article is written as a diary entry style narrative of my day at the CDL. Key takeaways will be bolded and summarized at the end of the article : )

When I first got an email saying my mentor for the CDL (Creative Destruction Lab) was Chris Hadfield, I didn’t believe it. I had to read it again… and again — and then it finally it sunk in. I’m getting the opportunity to shadow Chris Hadfield!

Back in early September, I applied for the CDL’s High School Girl’s Program after my friends shared their amazing experiences with me.

Fast forward to the end of November when I received an email inviting me to the second CDL session of the 2018–2019 program, followed by an email where I found out my world class mentor.

On the morning of the CDL, I got up at 5 a.m., as per usual. Only this time not to prepare for school, but for my exciting day ahead at the Creative Destruction Lab.

At five in the morning, I was already excited to meet my mentor, but it hadn’t quite hit me yet.

I had some breakfast and hit the road. After a quick commute (shoutout to my lovely parents for always driving me to cool places), I made it to UofT’s Rotman School of Business and Management, and snuck a glimpse of the CN Tower.

I was told to follow the pink staircase and little did I know that I would be using those stairs a lot throughout the day to get from meeting to meeting. The first person I met at the CDL was Ani Chemilian, head of Quantum Computing ventures at the CDL and the High School Girl’s Program I was apart of.

Ani is one of the sweetest people I have ever met and I’m really grateful to her for this opportunity to meet one of my biggest role models, as she knew about my aspiration to become an astronaut.

Ani gave me my name tag for the day (lanyard colours were based on what stream you were in).

There were four streams on the day I went: Space (my stream), QC (Quantum Computing), Cities, and AI (Artificial Intelligence). She also gave us a briefing on how the day would go and introduced all of us mentees to the founder of a QC company.

After the briefing, Ani personally introduced us to our mentors for the day. I was internally freaking out when she introduced me to Chris Hadfield. She told him how I wanted to be an astronaut in the future.

Chris introduced me to his friends Michael Lopez-Alegria (retired NASA astronaut), and William MacDonald (Mac) Evans (the former president of the CSA, whom also recruited him to be an astronaut)!

The CDL began with one-on-one meetings. This is where Chris helped space startups set objectives for the next couple of months. We met with several space startups including:

  • The Launch Company (My personal favourite. Based out of Kodiak, Alaska. A really cool space startup to watch). They run space launches for commercial companies and were founded by a former SpaceX employee.
  • Nopo Nanotechnologies → Manufacturers of Carbon nanotubes. Applications of these tubes are still being researched, but potential ones include: water filtration and anti-radiation.
  • Wyvern → a cool space startup, building a satellite with a ton of cool features.

Next up was the Space Stream large room discussion. Ajay Agrawal(founder of the CDL) gave the high school girls in the stream an opportunity to introduce ourselves in front of the startups, venture capitalists, and mentors.

My company highlight from the large room discussion was AI Space Factory. They built a 3D printer designed to print Mars habitats. Sadly there is no AI involved.

Chris led several of the startup discussions in the stream and it was really cool watching him give advice to the startups, based on his past experiences and unique knowledge in the space area.

After observing the super valuable discussions, I had lunch with Chris, Michael, and a former SpaceX worker. I also brought along my friends Kiara (in the Quantum computing stream) and Lauren (shadowing Michael) along to hear Chris’ stories.

The final part of the CDL experience was called “CDL Max.” This is where each stream chooses a couple companies to present in front of all the streams and ask for funding, support, or anything else they need to scale-up their startup.

The Launch Company got the opportunity to present and received lots individuals interested in funding them.

5 Lessons on How to Prepare for Life In Space

At the end of CDL Max, I asked Chris: “What can I do now, as a fifteen-year-old high school student to prepare for life in space, as an astronaut?”

Chris offered a lot of valuable advice. It is not only applicable to space professions, but also life in general.

1) Learn how to learn

Our world keeps changing at a fast pace and it will continue to do so.

Chris told me that in order to keep up with this fast pace we have to learn how to be lifelong learners.

We have to know we might have to go back to school, take online courses, or get some other form of education to stay in the loop.

In order to do this we need to learn how to learn.

One of the qualifications required to be a CSA (Canadian Space Agency) astronaut is to have a Bachelor’s or higher degree in a science or engineering field.

Chris told me that even though I’m still in tenth grade, it’s the perfect time to start working on an online undergraduate degree.

He said that you don’t learn much in your undergrad (compared to the rest of your years of university). What you do learn is HOW TO LEARN.

Learning to learn is an important skill to grow and strengthen now to help me prepare for life as an astronaut.

2) Make decisions and own them

Chris believes that it is important to make decisions (big or small) that positively influence our future selves.

For example, I can make the conscious decision to workout for thirty minutes every day.

If I achieve this, one month later I will be a fitter/healthier version of myself.

The reason Chris says this is SO IMPORTANT is because regardless of whether or not you make a decision to change your life in some small way, in a month you will be a different person.

It’s your choice:

  1. Do you want to choose to change for the better by making life-changing decisions, owning them, and following through with them?
  2. Do you want to have no influence in how you’ll change in the next month?

I’m sure most of you chose option one.

As an astronaut, you have to make important decisions every day.

Practicing making these decisions right now will help you prepare for these important decisions.

It will also help you become a better version of yourself.

3) Build habits

Similar to choosing to make decisions that will positively impact your future, Chris talked about the importance of building good habits and to START NOW.

Good habits include:

  • Working out → Astronauts have to be in top physical condition and work out daily on the ISS to prevent the effects of space on their bodies. Chris told me not to hit the gym every day, but to make conscious decisions throughout the day to take the active route (walk home from school, go for an evening run…) and make some time for a physical activity every day.
  • Eating healthy → Chris doesn’t believe in “dieting.” We should just eat what our bodies were designed to eat: strong teeth for meat & non-processed/non-sugary foods for our gut. We shouldn’t restrict ourselves from that occasional chocolate bar: Just try to eat as much whole foods as possible.
  • Choosing to read everyday → Reading helps you expose your mind to new knowledge.
  • Drinking lots of water → Hydration is key. Enough said.
  • Etc.

4) Do what you love & never let yourself hate what you are doing

I’m sure you’ve heard it a billion times before.

Do what you love.

Chris firmly believes that it’s super important to do what you love and chase your ambitions.

If you want to be an astronaut & pilot (like myself) → then go become an astronaut & pilot.

If you want to be a Disney princess at Disney World → become the best Disney princess they’ve ever seen.

Going with this theme: never let yourself hate what you are doing.

Find something you love about life right now and do more of that.

If you’re a high school student and don’t enjoy it that much. Figure out what makes you happy outside of school.

Maybe it’s a sport, writing tech articles, attending cool events like the CDL, or making Youtube videos.

Whatever it is do that until you graduate so you enjoy life and if you still enjoy doing it after high school consider pursuing it further.

5) Act like an astronaut

If you want to be the next astronaut selected for a mission (to the red planet, Venus, or beyond) you’ve got to start thinking like one.

If you come across a problem in your life think to yourself:

“How would an astronaut solve this problem?”

Astronauts solve problems one step at a time.

They never panic. They cannot afford to.

Something else astronauts practice is gratitude.

When you go to space for the first time and see the moon from the window of your spacecraft, you will experience something every astronaut does:

The Overview Effect

This is basically coming to terms with just how small we are in the grand scheme of things.

Our problems won’t seem so big anymore, because they actually aren’t that big.

Chris and other astronauts practice gratitude 24/7. They also make sure to be stewards for the Earth.

They try their best to take care of the planet and encourage others to do so too.

Key Takeaways

  • Learn how to become a lifelong learner.
  • Make decisions, own them, and positively shape the future you.
  • Build good habits that you can carry on for life.
  • Do what you love and never let yourself hate what you are doing. Find a way to love where you are right now.
  • Live life like an astronaut. Take things one step at a time, don’t panic, practice gratitude, and take care of the planet.

I want to give another huge thank you to Chris Hadfield, Ani Chemilian, and the CDL team for an amazing day! The experience was phenomenal and I gained so much value from my eight hours at Rotman. I am so grateful for this opportunity and look forward to attending the CDL again, this upcoming May.

I learned about startups, the space industry, and how to prepare for life as an astronaut and I’m excited to implement Chris’s lessons into my life, on my journey to the Red Planet and I hope you’ll implement some too.

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Thanks for reading! Now go change the world!

18 y/o researching closed-loop systems for earth + space.

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