Tag Archives: Chris Hadfield

Sending out an S.O.S. to the universe

Beware the birdbrains in your backyard

Beware the birdbrains in your backyard

Now that Sarnia-born astronaut Chris Hadfield is, again, just another terrestrial, he might wonder whether he left his orbiting observation deck just a tad prematurely.

Canadians are looking up – way up – these days for proof of intelligent life in the universe, having not found even a shred of it on Earth.

According Chris Rutkowski and Geoff Dittman of Winnipeg’s Ufology Research, almost twice as many people claimed to have seen something they could not explain in the night sky in 2012 than in 2008 (the previous record year).

As for UFO sightings, Mr. Rutkowski told CTV last week, “We thought that they had plateaued or peaked a few years ago, when there were about 1,000 cases reported in Canada. But last year they jumped 100 per cent: 2,000 reports in Canada alone. . .Now whether we’re looking at a physical phenomenon or perhaps a sociological or a psychological phenomenon, the fact is that people are seeing things. . .“The truth is out there, but unfortunately we’re stuck down here.”

We sure are, and “stuck” is the word.

Let us scan the leads of the world’s news, lo these past few days.

“The revelation that Stephen Harper’s top aide gave Senator Mike Duffy more than $90,000 to cover repayment of improper expense claims has dragged the Prime Minister and his office into the controversy over Senate accountability,” the Globe and Mail helpfully informed on Friday. “The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Mary Dawson, said Wednesday that her office will review PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright’s decision to bail out Mr. Duffy.”

Meanwhile, ABC News reported last Thursday, “The U.S. justice department has admitted to secretly seizing phone records from the Associated Press in its attempt to track down the source of a leak. It is suspected the raid relates to the AP’s reporting on a foiled Al Qaeda plan to detonate a bomb on a plane heading to the United States last year. The AP says the justice department seized the records of more than 20 home, mobile and office phone lines this year without notice.”

Then, there’s the IRS, whose honcho, the Guardian noted, U.S. President Barack Obama “fired. . .on Wednesday in an effort to bring a speedy end to a scandal over the targeting of Tea Party organisations and other conservative groups for special scrutiny.

Obama, speaking at the White House, described the conduct of the employees at the Internal Revenue Service office in Cincinnati, Ohio, as ‘inexcusable’.

“The president said the Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, had demanded the resignation of the acting commissioner of the IRS, Steven Miller, in the light of criticism in an inspector general’s report (which) found that ineffective management at the IRS had allowed agents. . .to target conservative groups inappropriately for more than 18 months. Officials had picked out groups with the words Tea Party or Patriots in their titles and subjected their requests for tax-exempt status to extra scrutiny.”

Now, as CBS reported on Thursday, “The White House release of some 100 pages of emails and notes about the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year has failed to satisfy congressional Republicans, who are demanding more information. . .Republicans have accused the Obama administration of misleading the American people about the circumstances of the attack, playing down a terrorist strike that would reflect poorly on President Obama in the heat of a presidential race. Mr. Obama has dismissed charges of a cover-up and suggested on Monday that the criticism was politically motivated.”

Finally, the U.S. Treasury is broke, as is most of continental Europe and a fair number of Canadian provinces. Household debt is at an all-time high as the gap between the rich and the poor inexorably widens.

And this lately in from the lunatic fringe: “Throughout the years it has become a duty of each Flat Earth Society member, to meet the common round earther in the open, avowed, and unyielding rebellion; to declare that his reign of error and confusion is over; and that henceforth, like a falling dynasty, he must shrink and disappear, leaving the throne and the kingdom of science and philosophy to those awakening intellects whose numbers are constantly increasing, and whose march is rapid and irresistible.”

Under the circumstances who in his or her right mind wouldn’t want to make the stars his or her destination?

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The sky’s the limit for Canuck in space

The future is what you make of it. . .Up. . .up. . .in the air

The future is what you make of it. . .Up. . .up. . .in the air

When I grow up, I want to be Chris Hadfield – minus the mustache.

In fact, the first Canadian astronaut to command the International Space Station (he returns to terra firma on Monday) perfectly mirrors my own youthful ambitions, if not actual experiences.

He’s almost exactly my age (we both graduated high school in 1978). He can fly 70 different types of aircraft (I once took the controls of a Cessna for about five seconds). He’s on a first-name basis with Captain Kirk (I once tripped over William Shatner’s carry-on at Pearson Airport). He plays the guitar (so do I. . .sort of).

There, alas, the similarities end.

Where the mere thought of spending months on end sealed up in a metal can hundreds of kilometers above our planetary orb is enough to give me a panic attack, Mr. Hadfield seems to relish his splendid isolation. He even wrote a song about it (with Barenaked Ladies’ frontman Ed Robertson).

“Eighteen thousand miles an hour/Fueled by science and solar power/The oceans racing past/At half a thousand tons/Ninety minutes Moon to Sun/A bullet can’t go half this fast/Floating from my seat/Look out my window/There goes Home (There goes home)/That brilliant ball of blue/Is where I’m from, and also where I’m going to.”

Catchy. Last week, Mr. Hadfield warbled his ditty, “ISS – Is Somebody Singing?” – from space. According to a CBC News report, “students, musicians and other participants from across Canada and as far away as Singapore and Australia sang along. . .The concert (was his) final live link from the space station before he returns to Earth on May 13.”

Indeed, the high-flying voyager has been a busy guy since he docked with his orbiting home away from home on December 21. Deftly using social media to communicate with his terrestrial brethren, he helped the Bank of Canada unveil its new, plastic $5 bill (he noted that the currency illustrates “how we can reach new heights of innovation”).

He also demonstrated that weightlessness, though challenging, need not preclude every day chores, such as brushing teeth, making sandwiches or sopping up spilled water. As National Post columnist Joe O’Connor observed in February, Mr. Hadfield “put on a goofy outfit to celebrate Mardi Gras. . .dropped a puck from the heavens on Hockey Night in Canada, fixed some space station gizmo of great scientific importance while sending out a daily stream of majestic photographs of the Earth below – the Sahara, the Australian Outback, the blinding lights of Beijing  via Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.”

The highlight, perhaps, was his twitter conversation with Canadian-born actor William Shatner (AKA James Tiberius Kirk of Star Trek fame) In January.

Mr. Shatner: “Are you tweeting from space?”

Mr. Hadfield: “Yes, Standard Orbit, Captain. And we’re detecting signs of life on the surface.”

All of which moved Stephen Quick, director of the Ottawa-based Canada Aviation and Space Museum, to tell Mr. O’Connor, “Chris is a rock star, there is no two ways about it. We’ve seen it from the beginning with Chris. We’ve had him in here to do briefings on how to fly a CF-18, and on training for space, and he is as adept at talking to a six-year-old with stars in their eyes as he is talking to the governor-general or a head of state. He tunes into that person. He has this vibrant personality, this twinkle in his eye, and it is almost a mischievous twinkle.”

At a time when interest in science is waning and only the grizzled among us can remember the excitement and wonder the Apollo moon landings inspired so many long decades ago, Mr. Hadfield’s demonstrable competence and enthusiasm renews faith in the efficacy of human endeavor. And his good homour is infectious.

Now that this Mr. Dressup of near space, this Pied Piper of the cosmos, this indisputable Voice of God to countless four-year-olds (including my grandson) prepares to rejoin us on the surface, a thought inevitably occurs.

If Mr. Hadfield ever decides to remove his mustache, certain candidates for high political office in Canada should start watching their backs.

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