In The Apollo Murders (Mulholland, Oct.), former commander of the International Space Station Hadfield depicts a deadly encounter in space in 1973.

What led you to become an author?

Writing was my favorite subject at school, but I always wanted to fly in space, and didn’t think they’d ever let me do that if I had pursued a career as a writer. What would you do if you’d orbited Earth 2,600 times? Do you keep that experience to yourself, commanding a spaceship, and flying American and Russian rockets? It would feel like I’d squandered it if I didn’t do my best to share it.

How did you transition to fiction?

I’d already written three books when I got asked by Ray Bradbury’s family to write a new intro to a special edition of The Martian Chronicles. There was a lot of good positive reaction to that intro, and I got asked by someone in the industry I really like and respect about developing an idea for a novel. That gave me the courage to do it.

How did that germ of an idea develop into this book?

He just gave me something simple to start—set during the timeline of an Apollo mission, going to the moon and back, and having something to do with murder. I’m very much a details kind of guy—that’s how I succeeded as a fighter pilot, a test pilot, an astronaut, and as an engineer. I took that idea, and looked for a time and place where my story really could be rich. And so I started digging into the history—if it’s an Apollo, then it’s some time between 1969 and 1973, and I can’t squeeze one in between Apollo 10 and Apollo 17—so it had to be either before or after for there to be any chance of this ringing true. I decided after; since Apollo 17 was just before Christmas, 1972, that puts me into 1973.

Were there events that year that you integrated into your plot?

When I started looking into what was going on in the world then, I came across the confluence of real-world things that I could use. There was this Russian spy station up there that mysteriously malfunctioned and deorbited at exactly the time that I was setting my book. Lunokhod, the Russian lunar rover, was driving around the surface of the moon—and it also mysteriously malfunctioned and died on the moon. Watergate was going on, and the rise in women’s rights, so there was a beautiful sweet spot to put that story into. Maybe 80% of the stuff in my book really happened.