Not any more

Space, a Canadian frontier

In Canada on September 3, 2010 at 11:34

MONTREAL – He’ll be in charge of the $135-billion International Space Station, orbiting the Earth 400 kilometres up, but Chris Hadfield wouldn’t dare disobey his wife and shave off his moustache.

“I shaved it off once and she said ‘never do that again,’ ” Hadfield, 51, said yesterday, after he was introduced as the first Canadian commander of the 15-nation ISS. Hadfield will take the reins for approximatelythelasttwomonthsof asix-month stay aboard the outpost that is to start when he blasts off to the station in a Russian Soyuz rocket in late November or December of 2012.

“It’s a tremendous honour,” the native of Sarnia, Ont., said at the Canadian Space Agency’s headquarters in Longueuil. “Symbolically, it shows that Canada is a steadily increasing, influential provider of space technology. We’re a world leader in robotics,” he said, noting that the station’s 17-metre long robotic arm (Canadarm2), its two-armed robot handyman (DEXTRE) and its movable work platform and storage facility are Canadian-made.

Hadfield will be flight engineer for his mission’s first four months, carrying out scientific experiments and robotics tasks, including grappling and berthing spacecraft to the station. As a veteran of two space flights, he may be required to venture out around the soccer field-sized ISS. When three of the six-person crew are replaced by new astronauts in March 2013, Hadfield will assume the role of commander of the 12-year-old station.

Hadfield will then be responsible for the crew’s safety, station operations and maintaining its equipment. And things do break down; On July 31, the station’s cooling system broke down, forcing the crew to conduct a major powering down to prevent equipment from overheating.

Gary Goodyear, the federal minister of state for science and technology, who was on hand in Longueuil yesterday, said Hadfield’s selection “reflects the achievements of our space exploration program and the renowned quality of our Canadian Astronaut Corps.” At the very least, the choice is an ego boost for Canada’s modest space program, which has had a steadily shrinking annual budget ($323 million this year, from $374.1 million four years ago).

“There’s lots to do at the space station,” Hadfield said. Some major new parts are still to be delivered although the station is now basically complete.

Hadfield said the ISS has become large enough for sizable, long-term experiments cared for by succeeding crew-mates. Some have scientific and technological payback. Others are just cool.

“It’s big enough that we can grow trees in space.”

Hadfield is a natural for the command post since he trained as the backup to Bob Thirsk, the first Canadian to live on the station for six months -in 2009. Thirsk was the station’s medical doctor.

mharrold@thegazette.canwest.com

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

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