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.