Nothing was off limits for beloved Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield as he fielded questions from a few hundred elementary and Thompson Rivers University students on Friday afternoon.
How do astronauts go to the bathroom? How do they keep from going crazy and throttling each other? How does one become an astronaut?
He responded to the interrogation with humour and inspiring advice.
"You are the product of your decision making and what you decide today helps shape what you're going to wake up as tomorrow," he told a 10-year-old girl who asked what made him want to be an astronaut. More on that later.
Hadfield spent the day in Kamloops sharing his experiences first hand with the legion of fans that he made earlier this year while floating high above Earth and broadcasting videos of songs, science experiments and philosophical musings.
He also spoke to a public gathering at TRU on Friday night, which was simulcast at the university's Williams Lake campus and at the Big Little Science Centre.
"Space walking is the coolest thing ever," he told the crowd. "To be outside . . . holding on with one hand in between the whole world and the universe."
His five-month command of the International Space Station — not to mention his YouTube rendition of Space Oddity by David Bowie — made him a global celebrity.
"It's been a phenomenal year in my life," he said, chuckling along with the audience at his own understatement.
"This year I went around the world 2,363 times, and that's not including flying here from Toronto yesterday."
Six-year-old Ryder Dobson said he's now used to rubbing elbows with Hadfield after meeting him during a trip to Ottawa when they happened to be staying at the same hotel.
Hadfield remembered Ryder and sat chatting with him and giving him an autographed photo before the event.
"I asked him what happens to marshmallows in space," said Ryder afterwards. "He said they swell up."
Hadfield told the crowd that Canada will recognize his accomplishments next month with the release of a new five-dollar bill featuring his image.
"Who would've thought that would happen?" he said. "But I figure I should get a bunch of them for free, right?"
Despite the boast, Friday's gathering really was all about the kids as he kept his opening comments brief to move into the hour long Q&A session.
A young air cadet in the audience received a nod of approval from her hero when she asked what it takes to become an astronaut.
"Being an air cadet is a good choice," he said. "They taught me to fly gliders, fly airplanes and what I learned about leadership eventually was all from being an air cadet."
Hadfield boiled it down to three main points: a proven ability to learn complex things (an advanced university degree is a good indicator, he said); physical health and suitability ("get over it" and find another passion if that's not you, he added); and a proven ability to make good decisions when the consequences matter (otherwise known as operational decision-making).
He first decided to become an astronaut just before his 10th birthday as a boy growing up in Southern Ontario. He was glued to the television on July 20, 1969, when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first men to walk on the moon.
"I thought Neil was the coolest guy in the world," said Hadfield.
It was impossible for a Canadian to become an astronaut since there was no national space program, he said. But he figured, what the heck. Walking on the moon had been impossible, too, until that day.
"So I started getting myself ready," he said. "What you decide to do today helps shape what you're going to wake up as tomorrow.
"Just think about when you're making all those little, tiny decisions each day, those are the ones that actually determine who you are."
He then thrilled the Kamloops audience by breaking out his guitar for a performance of his own song, Space Lullaby, which he wrote for his 27-year-old daughter during his mission.
As for the awkward bathroom question, Hadfield cut the tension by inviting the questioner down to help him demonstrate.
"You were brave enough to ask," he said when fourth year TRU science student Steve Sadler briefly hesitated.
"It's kind of a silly topic, right? But important."
Hadfield went into an elaborate explanation, saying that first the astronaut must strap into the toilet lest he float away.
The liquids are collected using a hose and funnel then treated and turned into drinking water.
"Gross but true," he said. "Same as in Kamloops — you have a sewage treatment plant."
Solid waste is collected in a can at the base of the toilet. Then it and the rest of space station garbage is gathered in an unmanned re-supply ship. When that's full, it's undocked and robotically flown into the atmosphere and burned up.
"So next time you see a beautiful shooting star . . ." he said to gales of laughter.