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Chris Hadfield is the ultimate traveller

Colonel Chris Hadfield is at home at the controls of the International Space Station. The Canadian astronaut is revelling in his mission to the Final Frontier. (NASA photo/CSA Astronaut Chris Hadfield)

Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor

Okay, Colonel Chris Hadfield may be a Canadian legend. But let’s face it — he must also be a really annoying man to have a beer with. Just imagine the conversation:

“Yeah, Colonel Hadfield, last year I visited several cool places for Vacay.ca. I went to JasperSudburyOttawa, and Thunder Bay, to name a few. Yup, I was on the road quite a bit,” I might proudly say.

The International Space Station is in constant orbit of the planet. (NASA photo)

His answer?

“Yeah, that’s cute, son. I’ve launched with two space shuttle missions. I dropped the puck at a Leafs game from space. Star Trek captain William Shatner is a good friend and Twitter buddy of mine. Oh yeah, and on Wednesday I’ll be taking command of the International Space Station. Now would you please shut up and pass the pretzels.”

And with my head hung low, I would do just that.

As annoying as Hadfield may be over an imaginary beer, there’s no doubt he’s a hero in our book and without question Canada’s ultimate traveller. And for good reason — this week, during the second portion of his six-month stay in space, Hadfield will go into the history books as the first Canadian to command a spaceship when he becomes commander of the ISS.

One Heck of a Space Ride, Eh?

Hadfield’s journey from a border city in Ontario to  becoming the first Canuck at the helm of the ISS has been an incredible ride.

Hadfield taking out a brand new telescope aboard the ISS. (NASA photo/Chris Hadfield)

Born August 29, 1959 in Sarnia and raised in Milton, Hadfield became interested in flying early in life. He joined the Canadian Armed Forces in May 1978 and spent four years in military college, where he received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering (with honours) in 1982.

When I was nine, I wanted to be an astronaut but at that time there weren’t any Canadian astronauts. You had to be American or Soviet, ” he told Discover Milton.

In November 1995, Hadfield served as Mission Specialist 1 on STS-74, NASA’s second space shuttle mission to rendezvous and dock with the Russian Space Station Mir. In April 2001, Hadfield served as Mission Specialist 1 on STS-100, an ISS assembly flight. In December 2012, he launched aboard the Russian Soyuz, en route to becoming the second Canadian to take part in a long-duration spaceflight aboard the ISS.

In an interview with Canada AM, Hadfield said that the prospect of taking command of the station is “surreal” and is “amazing for me to even contemplate.”

Hadfield: “After more than two months aboard the ISS, I’ve gotten used to the feeling of constant weightlessness. I feel like a spaceling. It sounds weird, it’s not a very common word — but I don’t feel like an Earthling. I can fly and float and turn upside down. I don’t need to touch the floor. It’s a whole new way to be.”

Look Up … A Star is Born

If Hadfield’s journey is inspiring, it’s made even more so by his adept use of social media and his easy-going demeanor. Reading Hadfield’s Twitter reports and seeing him speak about space in the media is like listening to a college buddy talk about his vacation. The jaw-dropping pictures he’s taken of what seems to be every corner of the Earth, including Shanghai, Washington, Freetown, Porto, Mexico City, and Melbourne have been viewed by millions of people, created interest in science among young people, and caused a social media storm.

The UK Guardian: “With seemingly incessant 140-character bursts accompanied by stunning photographs shot from a glassed-in section at the bottom of the space station orbiting 400km above the Earth, the former fighter pilot with a love of music and a poet’s turn of phrase has seen a 15-fold increase in Twitter followers since he blasted off on a Soyuz rocket before Christmas.

It is part of plan cooked up before Hadfield’s latest mission began, and is in fact the brainchild of his web-savvy sons. Kyle, 29, came up with the idea to get his father ‘s space message out through Twitter, while Evan Hadfield, 27, occupies the unofficial mission control at his post in Darmstadt, south of Frankfurt in Germany.”

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It seems Hadfield’s purpose in life is to tell the story of space. But perhaps the most amazing thing about his journey is that he’s willing to take time out of his busy schedule to bring us along for the ride. He  isn’t the first person to take bold steps toward the “Final Frontier,” but he is the first astronaut in many years to truly make space feel like home to the average person.

When Canada AM asked Hadfield if civilians were ready for space, he was quick to say yes. “Well, of course! It’s just such a cool thing. Number one to be weightless … that is a completely rare experience. But to be able to see the world from this altitude, to be able to look down and see the curvature of the earth, and the thin atmosphere and the beauty of it and the colours of it. It’s something that should be on everybody’s bucket list … you need to have a lot of money … but if you do, I’d put it on the list.”

Hadfield has crossed space off his to-do list, but we have a feeling this isn’t going to be his last trip. We’re left to wonder where in the universe Hadfield will go after his current mission. We don’t have the answer to that question but keep following him on Twitter … wherever his journey takes him, he’s bound to be boldly going somewhere very few have gone before.

Rod has previously worked for Canoe.ca and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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