Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is a tough as nails pilot, and soon to be commander of a $150-billion space station.
But he has not lost his boyhood wonder.
“It’s almost like a land of magic,” says Hadfield, describing the weightless environment of space he is due to enter on December 19.
Once you leave Earth’s gravity behind, he says “it’s like someone tapped you on the head and said ‘fly’.”
Hadfield, who enters quarantine Wednesday in final preparations for his launch from Russia’s snowy Cosmodrome, says he plans to savour the six months he is will spend floating around the International Space Station.
A veteran of two shorter space flights, Hadfield says he is looking forward to having “the time and ability to really become someone who lives there.”
“To internalize it, to make it my postal code, that’s what I am really looking forward to,” Hadfield said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
The 53-year-old astronaut plans to celebrate an early Christmas while in quarantine at the cosmodrome, located on the barren and snowy plains of Kazakhstan.
Hadfield’s wife, three grown children, and friends, are flying in for the launch. They’ll be able to exchange holiday wishes through windows, but he says they’ll have to pass health checks to get into the same room with him.
“Mostly it will be Chris under glass,” he quipped.
”You don’t want a stomach ailment,” he said. “And you sure don’t want a head cold where you can’t clear your ears, otherwise we couldn’t launch.”
Hadfield has been training for the mission for four years and he intends “to walk out to the rocket ship healthy, rested and really mentally up to speed on every little detail that will make the flight go right.”
After lift off in a Soyuz rocket it is a two-day trip to the International Space Station that will be his home until May.
Hadfield has made two previous space flights. He was the first Canadian to operate the robotic Canadarm in space in 1995 and on his second flight in 2001 Hadfield made the first Canadian spacewalk as he attached Canadarm2 to the International Space Station.
In another first for a Canadian, Hadfield will take the helm of the space station for the second half of his upcoming mission. As commander he will lead a crew of two Americans and three Russians during the final three months of his stay aboard the orbital science lab. The station orbits around Earth every 90 minutes from its perch about 360 kilometres above planet.
Hadfield’s list of tasks for the mission include using the Canadarm2 to capture a space capsule filled with food, clothing, and equipment, and go on a spacewalk or two.
He and his crewmates will also oversee 130 experiments – many of which they will conduct on themselves – exploring everything how the human heart shrinks in space, to anti-matter in the universe.
In his spare time Hadfield, an avid musician, plans to pick up his guitar and work on the first-ever album from space.
His has also set up Facebook and Twitter accounts to share the “amazing” experience with as many people as possible.
“The nice thing about social media is when I have a random thought, or something is funny, or something is serious or something is pretty I can immediately share it,” says Hadfield. “ I don’t have to try and make a note of it and then write a book four years from now.”
But they’ll be no tweets from the launch pad. “The Soyuz is a very basic spaceship,” he says. “It doesn’t have anything except a VHF radio. So between launch and docking (with the space station two days later) I’ll be mute, but I will be soaking up experiences to talk about I’m sure.”
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