February 26, 2022

Retired astronaut Chris Hadfield draws from time in orbit to pen ‘The Apollo Murders’

Writers have long looked to the stars for literary inspiration. But retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield figures he may be among the first authors of a space novel who can say he’s actually been there.

Hadfield says he drew on his own time in orbit to lend verisimilitude to “The Apollo Murders,” a Cold War-era cosmic thriller inspired by the real-life intrigue that propelled the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Ontario native has penned several non-fiction bestsellers based on his more than two-decade career as an astronaut, which saw him participate in three space missions, become the first Canadian to do a spacewalk and serve as the commander of the International Space Station.

Given this stellar resume, Hadfield said it didn’t take a huge leap of literary imagination to render the marvels of space travel in his fiction debut, fleshing out the plot’s twists and turns with precise details about the technical workings and interpersonal dynamics on board a rocket ship.

“People tell you the old saw, ‘Write what you know,”‘ Hadfield said in an interview from his cottage near Sarnia, Ont. “For almost everything in the book, I already knew the answer. I didn’t have to ask or look it up.”

Hadfield said “almost everything” in his alternate history of space exploration in 1973 is based in fact.

The story is set aboard the fictional flight of Apollo 18, which in reality, was cancelled by NASA because of budget cuts.

But in “The Apollo Murders,” the mission blasts off with orders from the U.S. military to scope out an armed Soviet spy space station.

While this conceit may seem far-fetched, the Soviets indeed fired a cannon in orbit under a secret program to develop military reconnaissance space stations.

Hadfield said the cloak-and-dagger suspense of the space race has provided such rich terrain for storytelling that he’s already hard at work on a sequel.

He said he’s also asked Canadian filmmaker James Cameron and actor Ryan Reynolds for their thoughts on the possibility of adapting “The Apollo Murders” for the big screen.

But Hadfield said he’s in no hurry to sign away the film rights, noting there’s already a surfeit of space movies that make him “cringe.”

Stories about space shape our ambitions to explore it, he said, so it’s important they’re told properly.

“Part of my ulterior motive is to not just tell the mechanical story, but actually let people see what it is like to fly in space on a daily basis as you go through the triumphs and the disasters,” said Hadfield.

“Hopefully … people will come away (from the book) with a lot deeper appreciation of what’s going on every time someone’s flying in space.”

“The Apollo Murders,” published by Random House Canada, hit shelves this week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2021

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