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Art & Design, Science

Astronaut Chris Hadfield launches new show "It's Not Rocket Science"

The universe's favourite Canadian is now available in animated form

Chris Hadfield, former international space station resident and everyone’s favourite astronaut, is to star in a new science animation alongside his pet pug Albert.

Last week Little Atoms sat down with Chris and the programme's makers Tracy King and Dan Turner at The Foundry in Soho, London to get a sneak preview of the series titled It’s Not Rocket Science, and talk about the importance of science communication, tackling creationism and how much Chris’s pug loves popcorn.

Despite having been blasted into space three times, being a commander of the international space station and even having an airport, two schools and an asteroid named after him, Chris will always see himself as a bit of a failure.

He confessed the reason he set his sight on becoming an astronaut, aged nine, was to walk on the moon ­– a feat he’s never managed to achieve.

But despite his extraordinarily high self-expectations, Chris’s new project is a little bit more down to earth. Each episode of It’s Not Rocket Science will take on a different issue, presented by an animated version of Chris from his very own space pod, complete with zero gravity and Canadarms.

When asked why he decided to create the series, Chris explained that he wanted to do something with his unique experience of travelling into the outer orbit. “After having the experience of flying in space, what do you do with that?”

The new series is aimed at making science more accessible and entertaining for a wide audience, something which Chris is famous for after his series of Youtube videos of life in zero gravity on board the international space station made him a viral sensation.

“Chris’s moustache is a character in itself”

Now Hadfield is getting the other members of his family involved, with son Evan Hadfield writing and producing the new series. The idea first came to Chris and Evan a few years ago. Chris then put out an open call for illustrators to his million or odd Twitter followers asking for people to pitch him ideas. The tweet was picked up Tracy and Dan, both science fans who run Kershoot, a small animation studio in London.

“It was if it was made for us!” says Tracy.

The duo are known for producing Tim Minchin’s Storm, after a chance encounter with the comedian in a London pub lead to working on the Youtube video which has had nearly has 4 million views.

After working on an idea, they decided to put together a pitch and send it off to Evan. One of the reason’s Chris and Evan chose the animation duo was because of their commitment to the idea. “We did a lot of research,” explained Dan who spent hours analysing the astronaut’s facial expressions in order to ensure the cartoon captured the essence of the astronaut.  “It would be really bad if I created a cartoon of Chris Hadfield and it ended up looking nothing like him.”

But drawing a spaceman isn’t that easy. As revealed on Little Atoms in 2015, the studio had to think long and hard about how they bring such a well known and loved character to life in 2D. They began by focusing on the things that make Chris so recognisable and immediately honed in on his moustache. “Chris’s moustache is a character in itself.” explained animator Dan, who spent hours ensuring the contours of Chris’s facial hair reflected the spaceman’s personality.

Dan also had to adjust Chris’s facial features to make it look like he was in space. “Your face looks different in zero gravity. It was something Chris said about his return to earth that I picked up on. He said how heavy his lips felt and how you have to fight to talk because you’re fighting against gravity.”

The first show will be on vaccinations, with Chris exploring the history of vaccines and their role in modern medicine. The team aren’t shy of tackling contentious subjects: the following episodes will tackle evolution and global warming.

When asked if evolution deniers are really that big a problem, Chris was adamant that it’s more of a problem than just a few extremists:  “In most parts of the world, there are a lot of people who would disagree with you [on evolution].”

series Chris will be accompanied by his pug Albert. Tracy explains: “We wanted to inject a bit of silliness into the animations, and what’s more stupid than a pug? Especially a pug that so stupid it defies the laws of gravity.”

It’s Not Rocket Science will be available on Chris Hadfield’s YouTube channel from mid-February. If you want to get more involved in the project you can back the series on Patreon and get access to behind the scenes footage.

Caroline is the section editor of Art & Design at Little Atoms. She has written for The Guardian, Vice and Dazed & Confused.