Quick Facts about Chris Hadfield
Chris Hadfield is far from geeky but it doesn’t make him less of a brilliant astronaut. He’s donning a space suit, all right, but he rocks! We mean that literally. Wherever he goes, Chris always brings music with him. He’s been a front man of bands he played with when he was in Houston and Star City in Russia. It apparently runs in their blood—his brother, Dave, is actually the professional musician. But mind you, Chris has helped him write some of the songs in his album. You could check the credits.
Enough of his artistic side… Chris is an achiever. He’s been accelerated in grade school and he has qualified to be in a specialized scholarship program offered by the Canadian Government to exceptionally brilliant students something he remembers to be called as an “enhancement program.” He’s won a glider pilot scholarship and earned his certificate when he was 15 and a powered pilot scholarship and certificate when he was 16. When he endeavored to be a professional pilot, he ended up on top of his class as he finished the Basic Jet Training. When he completed his stint in the U. S. Air Force Test Pilot School, he was named The US Navy Test Pilot of the Year.
As an astronaut, Chris became a first in many expeditions. Most popularly known is his work with the Russian Government’s space ship called the Mir. He is also the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm in orbit, the first Canadian to do spacewalks, and the first Canadian to have led a team of astronauts in their space exploration.
A few years prior to becoming an astronaut, he’s also served his home country and completed the first military flight of F/A-18 enhanced performance engines and piloted the first flight test of the National aerospace Plane external burning hydrogen propulsion engine, according to his official biography in the Canadian Space Agency website.
Chris Hadfield’s Early Biography in Sarnia
It’s hard to associate this celebrated astronaut’s childhood environment with the eventual career path he took as an adult. Chris was born to Roger Hadfield, a pilot himself for a Canadian airline, and his wife, Eleanor Hadfield in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada on 29 August 1959.
He grew up in a family who made him feel the love and care a child needs in his formative years. When his father was asked how he raised an astronaut, he gave a very pragmatic answer that went like this: “Shower him with love, care, and kindness.” No wonder Chris grew up into the kind of man he is now—a responsible and passionate individual who has managed to keep both his feet grounded in spite of having gone to space and back.
His first experience of flying was when he was three years old. Being a son of a pilot, he was fortunate to be among the few people who had the opportunity to fly. He may not have much recollection of the first time he left the ground but as Roger looked at his son’s bewildered face, he knew that like him, he’d love to earn a living by flying.
Chris spent his kindergarten and grade school in Sarnia but eventually had to move when his father was hired to pilot a Canadian airline whose base is in Milton.
Seeing Neil Armstrong Walk on the Moon
Like other kids of his time, Neil Armstrong was Chris’ hero. He was about to turn 10 when Neil’s space exploits were chronicled on TV. For a time, all people talked about was the Space Race. When Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the moon on 20 July 1969, Chris was among millions of people fortunate enough to see man’s first steps on what no one imagined could ever be within reach. Together Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin proved that man has indeed made it to the moon.
That historical event made everyone proud of the achievement of the human race. But more than being proud, one person has been inspired to do the same for life. With his eyes glued on their black and white television set, Chris Hadfield just knew it in his heart that he will one day become like Neil Armstrong.
He told his parents about what he wanted to achieve when he becomes an adult and they somehow believed that he will live out his dream. They just have to provide him with the best foundation they can afford as middle-class parents to a highly intelligent boy. Chris knew that he couldn’t become an astronaut overnight. It seemed like an incredulous idea back then, considering that Canada has not yet taken part in any space exploration mission, hence no program even existed. But he could at least try. Since then, Chris had focused on going through the path that eventually led him to space.
Along with his dream of getting a job in space is his discovery of music. When they went into an auction one day, a guitar was open for bidding. They were the only takers so they got it for five dollars. He and Dave then began making music on that guitar.
When Chris turned 13, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Cadets and was made a recipient of flight scholarships.
A Teenager on Flight
When Chris was 15 years old, he earned a scholarship to become a glider pilot. On the following year, he qualified for another scholarship to become a powered pilot. Chris must have had an innate skill for flying. In 1977, Chris graduated from Milton District High School as an Ontario Scholar.
Chris has this to say about his impressive achievement as a teenage pilot:
“I went to two different high schools, and there was two different tracks, one the high school track to go to the university and one not. At the time you went to an extra year of high school if you’re going to university, nice preparation for the course that I decided to follow. I was a ski instructor; there’s a great opportunity for outdoor activities in Canada and to be able to have the combination of the natural environment, the physical challenges of downhill skiing and racing. Being a ski instructor, for me I learned a lot about managing speed and managing energy. I learned to fly as a teenager; there’s a program in Canada called Air Cadets, it’s sort of like the Civil Air Patrol in the United States but it’s a little closer to the Canadian air force, and they teach young Canadians, whether it’s Sea Cadets, Army Cadets or Air Cadets, they teach them a bunch of technical things, they teach them self-discipline, they give them levels of responsibility that they might not get otherwise as teenagers, and in my case, I spent one summer learning to be a glider pilot and getting my glider pilot’s license. Right at the age of 16 I became a powered pilot. A significant percentage of commercial pilots in Canada, something like half of them, went through Air Cadets, so it’s a great program set up by the country that allows young Canadians to pursue an area of specialized interest that then makes them useful to the country later on.” (Source: NASA)
Becoming a Fighter Pilot
After high school and some months of becoming a ski instructor, Chris decided to get enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces. The first couple of years of his training, he spent in the Royal Roads Military College and he went on to complete a mechanical engineering degree after two years in the Royal Military College in 1982. He graduated with academic distinction.
In the same year that he graduated, he began his post-graduate research in Ontario at the University of Waterloo. In 1983, he became CFB Moose Jaw's top graduate in the Basic Jet Training course. After that he became a tactical fighter pilot trainee and joined the 410 Tactical Fighter Operational Training Squadron where he flew the Canadair CF-116 Freedom Fighter and the McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet. Fresh out of training, Chris then was deployed to intercept missions for North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) where he flew CF-18 Hornets with 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron.
He was not only an achiever inside the classroom. Chris also proved to be a military man worthy of acclaim. During his mission as CF-18 pilot, he was the first to intercept a Soviet Tupolev Tu 95 long-range bomber in the Canadian Arctic.
As the 1980s drew to a close, he was chosen as an exchange officer with the US Navy. In his three-year stay in the US, he was able to accomplish the following according to his biography in the Canadian Space Agency website:
"His accomplishments from 1989 to 1992 included testing the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet and LTV A-7 Corsair II aircraft; performing research work with NASA on pitch control margin simulation and flight; completing the first military flight of F/A-18 enhanced performance engines; piloting the first flight test of the National Aerospace Plane external burning hydrogen propulsion engine; developing a new handling qualities rating scale for high angle-of-attack test; and participating in the F/A-18 out-of-control recovery test program."
He stayed another year in the US to complete his master's degree in aviation systems at the University of Tennessee Space Institute. In his entire career as a pilot, he was said to have flown 70 various types of aircraft.
NASA Mission Begins
At 33 years old, Chris saw his dreams come to pass after he was chosen from 5,330 applicants to become one of the four new Canadian astronauts. The reason why he has made Houston his second home is because he was assigned to the NASA Johnson Space Center by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Chris was sent to Houston, Texas to do something about the technical and safety issues for Shuttle Operations Development. He also offered valuable insights to the design of the glass shuttle cockpit aside from assisting shuttle launches, which brings him to the Florida state every once in a while.
His first experience of spaceflight was on STS-74 in November 1995. He was Mission Specialist 1 in that expedition and operated Canadarm in orbit. To date, he remains to be the lone Canadian who ever boarded Mir.
It says in his biography in the CSA website that he also became the voice of mission control for 25 space shuttle missions being NASA's Chief CapCom.
In 1996, he began to represent Canadian astronauts as its Chief Astronaut. Chris held the position for four years. The following year, he was sent to Star City, Russia where he became the Director of Operations for NASA at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonauts Training Center (GCTC) for two years. That's when he first became involved in the International Space Station activities. In Russia, he trained to be a flight engineer cosmonaut in the Soyuz TMA spacecraft and he became qualified to do spacewalks in the Russian Orlan spacesuit.
Six years after his STS-74 flight, he joined STS-100, International Space Station (ISS) assembly Flight 6A as Mission Specialist 1. They spent 11 days in space to install the upgraded version of Canadarm called Canadarm2 and Raffaello, a resupply module from Italy. It marked a historical event not only for the boy who once dreamed of walking on space like Neil Armstrong, but also for the whole of Canada which he proudly represents. Chris Hadfield became the first Canadian astronaut to do a spacewalk. He felt privileged that he was able to do it twice.
He was then back in Houston, this time as the Chief of Robotics. In three years' time, he became Chief of International Space Station Operations until 2008. Robert Thirsk's needed a back-up for the Expedition 21 so he had to train. Robert Thirsk is a fellow Canadian who now holds the longest space flight as far as Canadian record is concerned.
Next Mission: Underwater
To simulate space exploration, Chris was made commander of the NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) 14. NEEMO 14 is NASA's underwater "spacecraft." He and his crew lived and worked underwater from May 10 to 23, 2010. In order to train them to be more sensitive to extraterrestrial life, they explored the Pavilion Lake the following month. It's 420 km northeast of Vancouver and has microbialite presence. Chris was part of the team that conducted research by using "remotely operated vehicles, autonomous underwater vehicles, SCUBA divers and DeepWorker submersibles to help understand how the microbialites formed and possibly make it easier to identify potential forms of extraterrestrial life on future missions to Mars." (Source: NASA)
Before the year ended, Prime Minister Harper announced that Chris will be a part of Expedition 34/35.
Living in Space
Two years later, on 19 December 2012, Chris went aboard the Russian Soyuz to live in space for six months. This would be the third time for him to go to space. Unlike his first two space flights, Expedition 34/35 required him to stay in space for a much longer period of time. Not only that, he will be commanding the crew during the last 3 months of his stay there. He is the first Canadian to be tasked to lead the space crew in the history of space exploration. They are bound for the International Space Station to do many things, which he enumerates below during a pre-flight interview:
"One of the experiments we have on board is called Vascular [Cardiovascular Health Consequences of Long-Duration Space Flight], and it’s looking at what happens to the cardiovascular system when you live in an environment like that... We have an experiment called Microflow [Microflow technology demonstration] that used to be a big piece of equipment installed at a hospital, they would try to figure out how can we actually sample the crew member’s blood while they’re in orbit and get looking at the individual cellular level, as a result, have got it down to the size of a toaster...The final piece I want to talk to you about is the aging process; the loss of bone and the loss of muscle strength it is so rapid for astronauts in space. It’s as if you spent months, years, or even decades on Earth, happens in just a few months in orbit. Using changes in exercise and changes in diet, we have basically found a way to beat that type of osteoporosis so that we can have crews that used to come back with significant bone loss, now come back basically with no bone loss at all." (Source: NASA)
When he took over the ISS command, the Queen of Canada, Elizabeth II, personally sent him the following words of congratulations: "I am pleased to transmit my personal best wishes, and those of all Canadians, to Colonel Christopher Hadfield as he takes command of the International Space Station."
Keeping in Touch through YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook and Sharing Photos
In a nutshell, their mission in space is more than just exploring the universe; it’s exploring possibilities of enabling man to live and thrive beyond the Earth. As an astronaut, he felt compelled to let others see what he was privileged to behold in space.
What he did was share his breathtaking snapshots of the view from outer space in his Tumblr blog. The result was overwhelming. His photos elicited waves of appreciation from people all over the world who, in one way or another, have been moved beyond words by his photos.
For Chris, he took it upon himself to get people to realize that beyond this Earth is a bigger world and from that perspective, what we seem to think as a matter of life and death could be insignificant in the bigger picture. He’s mentioned concern about the ongoing conflict in Syria and has commented on how the world from his perspective as an astronaut keeps going about its routine in spite of the turmoil that besets some of the nations it houses.
He’s also released the first song recorded in space, Jewel in the Night, on December 24th 2012 and two months later, performed a song, Is Somebody Singing (I.S.S.) with Barenaked Ladies frontman, Ed Robertson. His cover of the David Bowie song, “Space Oddity,” released shortly before returning to Earth, went viral with views now at 15 million and counting. Although he was in space all along, he has managed to create a name on Earth.
His two sons, Kyle and Evan, helped him become social media savvy. He has one daughter named Kristin who is equally proud of his achievements as her two brothers are.
The Landing and the Retirement
Six months after he left the Earth, Chris landed safely in Kazakhstan on May 13, 2013 with Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko. He was warmly welcomed by his high school sweetheart and wife, Helene, and their three adult children.
Most of his life, Chris had been rarely in one place. He's gone everywhere including space and he knew he had to spend more time with his wife, who faithfully came with him wherever his assignments brought him. At 53 years old, Chris thought he'd had enough and wanted to give way to younger astronauts. He has recently tweeted his CSA retirement which took effect last July 3. That marks the end of the 21 years of his career as an astronaut.
As far as Chris is concerned, he's lived out his dream of a lifetime. He’s ready to conquer new impossibilities sans his spacesuit. But for now, he'll take it easy.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Canadian Space Agency
- NASA Johnson Space Center
- Yuri Gagarin Cosmonauts Training Center
- Canadian Armed Forces
- International Space Station
- Royal Military College Club
- Society of Experimental Test Pilots
- Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute
- Honorary Patron of Lambton College
- Lakefield College School former trustee
- International Space School Foundation (Board Member)
- Association of Space Explorers (President)
- Friends of NASA
- RMC 82
- Music Monday
Awards and Achievements
- 1974: Earned a glider pilot scholarship at 15 years old
- 1975: Earned a powered pilot scholarship at 16 years old
- 1983: Named top graduate of CFB Moose Jaw in the Basic Jet Training course
- 1988: Named the U. S. Air Force Test Pilot School's top graduate
- 1988: Given the Liethen-Tittle Award
- 1989-1992: Tested the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet and LTV A-7 Corsair II aircraft; performed research work with NASA on pitch control margin simulation and flight; completed the first military flight of F/A-18 enhanced performance engines; piloted the first flight test of the National Aerospace Plane external burning hydrogen propulsion engine; developed a new handling qualities rating scale for high angle-of-attack test; and participated in the F/A-18 out-of-control recovery test program (source: asc-csa.gc.ca)
- 1991: Named US Navy Test Pilot of the Year
- 1992: Included in one of the four new Canadian astronauts out of 5,330 applicants
- 1995: Only Canadian ever to board Mir
- 1995: Became the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm in orbit
- 1996: Appointed to the Order of Ontario
- 1996-2000: Served as the Chief Astronaut for the CSA
- 1997: Honored with the renaming of Sarnia city airport to Sarnia Chris Hadfield Airport
- 2001: Received the Meritorious Service Cross
- 2001: Received the Vanier Award
- 2001: First Canadian to do spacewalk
- 2001-2003: Stayed in Star City, Russia to serve as the Director of Operations for NASA at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonauts Training Center (GCTC)
- 2001: Commemorated on Royal Canadian Mint silver and gold coins for his walk on space
- 2002: Received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal
- 2003–2006: Johnson Space Center's Chief of Robotics for the NASA Astronaut Office
- 2003: Received the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal
- 2005: Inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame
- 2006–2008: Chief of International Space Station Operations
- 2008-2009: Trained to be Robert Thirsk's back-up on the Expedition 21 mission
- 2010: Served as the commander of the NEEMO 14 mission and spent 14 days underwater
- 2010: Appointed as the commander of the International Space Station as Expedition 35 chief
- 2012: Recorded the first song in space
- 2013: Has 930,000 Twitter followers
- 2013: "Space Oddity" version reached 15,000,000 views on YouTube
- Flown over 70 different types of aircraft
- NASA's ChiefCapCom for 25 space shuttle missions
- Qualified flight engineer cosmonaut
- Named by Forbes as The Most Social Media Savvy Astronaut Ever to Leave Earth
- Personally congratulated by Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada
- Has a school and park in Milton were named after him
- Field Medical Training graduate
- Recorded over 140 educational videos
- Took 45,000 pictures
- Played several concerts from orbit
- 1996: Received an honorary Doctorate of Engineering from the Royal Military College
- 1999: Received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Trent University
- 2013: Received an Honorary Diploma from Nova Scotia Community College