Canadian to head International Space Station

The International Space Station is pictured against the Earth in this image taken from NASA TV May...

The International Space Station is pictured against the Earth in this image taken from NASA TV May 23, 2010. REUTERS/NASA TV

KATHLEEN HARRIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:39 AM ET

OTTAWA — Chris Hadfield is preparing for his third trip to space — this time for a six-month mission as the first Canadian astronaut to command the International Space Station.

In what is being hailed as a great honour and source of pride for all of Canada, the veteran spaceman will lead scientific experiments, oversee equipment maintenance, and ensure the international crew's safety and good spirits.

There are resistance programs to limit muscle waste and bone shrinking caused by prolonged periods in zero gravity, but Hadfield said the team must prepare for the psychological impacts of a six-month separation from Earth.

"There are people who live in downtown Toronto who feel pretty isolated, and there are people who live way in the remote regions of Canada who are quite happy and comfortable with it," he told QMI Agency in an interview. "So it's more of an attitude - a realization and acceptance - working the reality of where you are into the fabric of your life that makes it either a negative, neutral or positive experience."

Hadfield, 51, a former fighter jet pilot born in Sarnia, Ont., joined the Canadian Space Agency in 1992 — selected from a pool of 5,330 applicants. He looks forward to his pending leadership role that goes beyond all aspirations he had as a youngster.

"Even in my own personal, little-boy wildest dreams I sure didn't think I could command a spaceship. It's outside even the realm of incredible dreams that a little kid has," he said.

Hadfield sees this milestone as an extension of Canadians' groundwork and achievements in space exploration, and building "world class" capability in aerospace and satellite industries.

Scheduled to blast off in December 2012 aboard the Russian Soyuz rocket, he will spend the next two years before the launch in intensive training programs around the world.

"I want to look back on this four-year stint - especially the six months in space - as the real pinnacle of what I was able to do as a Canadian astronaut and with the decisions I've made in my life," he said.

Calling astronauts "modern-day heroes," Secretary of State Gary Goodyear said Hadfield's selection reflects Canada's achievements in exploration programs and the renowned quality of its astronaut corps.

"This is news for which all Canadians can be proud," he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Hadfield “a great Canadian.”

“This is a great honour not just for him, but for the entire country, so I think we should all be very proud,” he said.

Hadfield said the honour is "beyond words."

"To have this opportunity is extremely challenging, extremely exciting and extremely rewarding," he said.

Hadfield took his first space flight in 1995 as a mission specialist on STS-74, NASA's second space shuttle mission to rendezvous and dock with the Russian Space Station Mir, and in 2001 served as mission specialist on STS-100, as part of a crew that delivered and installed Canadarm2 to the ISS.

kathleen.harris@sunmedia.ca


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