Down to earth

When he was nine years old, Chris Hadfield yearned to be an astronaut. When he was 35, he was preparing for launch as part of the flight crew of the shuttle Atlantis to help build the Russian space station Mir. He has crossed Canada in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, but will take his time travelling this year during his sold-out Canada 151 tour.
Commander Chris Hadfield will be in Halifax on March 1 at the Dalhousie Arts Centre. “I’ll show images of course, from space, and from Canada’s high Arctic, and I’ll play some music because that’s a wonderful way to share and think about who we are,” says Hadfield. “I want people to come away with a renewed sense of inspiration and optimism and drive and purpose in what they’re doing.”
The East Coast holds many memories. “I used to deploy out of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to intercept armed Soviet bombers during the height of the Cold War,” he says. His youngest son attended Mount Allison University, his eldest son went to Acadia University and his daughter was a professor at Dalhousie. “We’re also helping to support one of the Syrian refugee families in Halifax.”
Hadfield has flown in space three times. He was the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm to help build the International Space Station. “I felt immensely ready. You might be afraid, but really the only thing I was afraid of was that they wouldn’t let us go that day,” he says. “It’s kind of interesting to think that I was a government employee doing my job and on the order of half a million people came just to watch and share in the excitement of it at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.”
He says five months he was in space in 2012 were magnificent. “You’re weightless and the whole world is pouring by at eight kilometres a second,” he says. “You go around the world 16 times a day. You cross Canada in nine minutes. You see our entire country in nine minutes. And so to be in the midst of all that was an amazing, demanding, and stimulating place to be.”
After three space trips and 21 years as an astronaut, Hadfield retired. “It’s the hardest physical in the world to pass in order to be qualified and trusted to go live on a space station,” he explains. “The most demanding physical in the world, just to keep your job. And that gets harder and harder as you get older.”
Hadfield says he is still very interested in space exploration and would still consider a one-way journey to Mars. “Nobody here gets out alive and it’s not the prolongation of life that is important, it’s what you do in life that matters. It’s a grand adventure, it’s complicated, it’s dangerous, and so of course I’m interested in it, but it’s the how and why that interests me the most, not just the doing of it.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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