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Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s Historic Mission

Chris Hadfield was just a tyke when the Space Race began. But a month before he turned 10, he was watching along with millions of others when Neil Armstrong set the first human foot on the moon.

It was then he knew: He was going to be an astronaut. As Hadfield puts it, he  looked up at the moon and thought, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up. I’m going to grow up to be something — why don’t I grow up to be that? That is an interesting thing that’s a new challenge for humanity.

“But then, when I look around, I’m thinking, ‘I’m a 9-year-old kid, and I’m a Canadian, what are my odds?’”

The odd, it seems, weren’t quite as bad as he thought. In March, Hadfield will become the first Canadian Commander of the International Space Station.

Hadfield told the story during a NASA press conference in mid-October, as he and two other space travelers were beginning the last legs of preparation for launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft, scheduled for Dec. 19.

Hadfield told reporters that his nine-year-old self knew the odds were not very good. “But I thought,” Hadfield recalls, “well, up until yesterday people couldn’t even go and walk on the moon and now they can, so maybe I can, too. I started getting ready that night.”

Actually, Hadfield doesn’t mess around with much at all. As a youngster, he began planning his astronaut self. He knew he’d need to learn to fly, to scuba dive, to get into great physical shape and to learn a few languages. He did all of those things and more. He’s learned to fly more than 90 different types of aircraft, earned a degree in mechanical engineering, trained to become a fully qualified flight engineer in Soyuz TMA spacecraft, hung out with the Russians aboard their space station Mir, was the first Canadian mission specialist aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle, the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm in orbit, and the first to float freely in space during a space walk.

Hadfield is also a husband and a father of three. Oh, and he plays guitar and may record some music while he’s at the Space Station.

This will be his third trip into space, the second to the Space Station — he also visited 11 years ago, helping to deliver and install Canadarm2.

Hadfield is set to blast off from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan along with U.S. astronaut Tom Marshburn and cosmonaut Roman Romanenko for Expedition 34. He will take over as Commander of the Space Station as part of Expedition 35.

During the flight to the Station, his hometown of Sarnia, Ontario hopes to light up the city in salute to their native son as he heads to his historic mission.

It will be a busy six months for Hadfield. Besides becoming the commander, Hadfield will perform science experiments designed by Canadian schoolchildren; be the science experiment himself for scientists continuing to research how zero-gravity affects the human body; walk in space at least once (perhaps twice) to perform ISS repairs, and oversee the resupply of the Station during two scheduled visits from unmanned SpaceX Dragon cargo craft.

Fun will include his other passion, playing guitar.

The national MusiCounts schools program chose Hadfield and Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson as this year’s celebrity songwriters with a theme of space. School bands and choirs will be learning the song and will record parts of it, while Hadfield records other parts while aboard the Station.

Eventually, the hope is for a version that includes the schools, Barenaked Ladies, and Hadfield together. Will it be a hit? Who knows? But with Hadfield in the mix, the odds may be better than you think.

AJ Plunkett is a freelance writer in Virginia with experience in covering defense and aerospace industries, as well as health care issues. AJ blogs via Contently.com

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