Astronaut puts New Zealand at the top

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said New Zealand is the country that he most wants to visit, and he has finally made it here.

Canadian astronaut and internet celebrity Chris Hadfield finally has New Zealand in his sights and under his feet – posting a peaceful lakeside shot from somewhere in New Zealand on his Facebook page.

The man who has experienced the earth from above many times over has previously described New Zealand as the country that he most wanted to visit.

In a May 2015 interview with bbc.com, Hadfield said: “I have not seen New Zealand on the ground, but to see it from space – the huge volcano on the southern tip of the North Island, and the richness of the fjords and nature in the south, and the wine country at the north end of the South Island – just kind of coalescing every time I went by. That was really interesting to look at.”

It appears that he has not been disappointed, commenting on his post that “New Zealand is even more beautiful down here on the surface.”

If he gets the chance to look up, he may also discover that New Zealand by night offers one of the best opportunities in the world to view the stars from earth.  The light-pollution-free skies of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in the central South Island have been recognised as a gold-rated star gazing reserve.

Commander Hadfield, who spent five months on board the international space station, made social media history with his posts of breath-taking photos and commentaries, and became a YouTube sensation with his cover version of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ which has since received 23.6 million online views.

His photos of the earth - as seen from beyond the atmosphere and tweeted to his million-plus following - included stunning images of New Zealand mountains, lakes and coastlines which he described as "a very photogenic part of the world."

New Zealand, Hadfield said in an interview with BBC World News, represented the last landmass that the astronauts viewed before travelling east over the Pacific Ocean.

"It’s so beautiful … after you’ve crossed New Zealand you have the long passage across the Pacific so it’s your real last sight of land for what’s going to be - gosh, it takes almost a half an hour to cross the Pacific - so looking at New Zealand, it’s just beautiful," Hadfield told presenter Lucy Hockings.

Hadfield named New Zealand’s southern wine regions and the North Island as the regions that he would most like to visit.

"The wine country of the South Island, and the north end of New Zealand - it just looks so beautiful … and the beautiful volcanic mountain just on the south end of the North Island."

Hadfield, who took about 45,000 pictures while in space, picked the best ones to post on Twitter including a variety of New Zealand landforms, notably Mt Taranaki, Lake Taupo in the central North Island, Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf.

"When I saw one that really came out nicely I would then tweet it immediately to the earth."

Television interview

In the television interview, now also posted online, Hadfield discusses seeing the earth from space, why New Zealand is the one place on earth he'd most like to visit, and how to open a can of nuts in zero gravity.

While he describes the ‘Space Oddity’ video as "just a weekend project" with his son, Hadfield also admits to delight at the worldwide reaction to it.

"The mix of the art of David Bowie and the reality of what we’re doing on the space station has just been mesmerizing for so many people."

For Hadfield, sharing his experiences via social media realised a childhood dream.

"I was fantasizing about it [space] as a nine-year-old kid, and I would have loved to have had the chance to meet with an astronaut and to be brought on board the lunar lander the way that it’s possible now."

When he was chosen 23 years ago as an astronaut, Hadfield said that he resolved that "if I ever get the chance I am going to do my absolute best to use the technology to share my experience. It’s too rare to keep to oneself."

Since returning to earth, Hadfield has retired from active duty in space and published his second book - An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth.

Background: Commander Chris Hadfield

Commander Chris Hadfield, a former test pilot and aeronautical engineer, was selected for Canada’s space programme in 1992.

The first Canadian to walk in space, Chris Hadfield completed three space missions. He retired from the space programme in June 2013.

Published in 2013, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth (Pan Macmillan) recounts his life story (thus far) which takes him from boyhood in Ontario to adventures and learning in space.