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Keeping an edge: Hadfield perfects his skills in North America

Canadian astronauts Bob Thirsk and Chris Hadfield in the Canadian Space Agency's robotics training facility. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

When training for a long tour of duty aboard the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts spend many months away from their homeland, globe trotting between Canada, the United States, Europe, Russia and Japan.

Chris Hadfield's formal training for Expedition 34/35 began in March 2010 at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The first step was a round of evaluations to determine what he remembered from two US shuttle flights and most recently from his preparations as a backup to Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk on Expedition 20/21.

The evaluation showed that Hadfield still demonstrated competency in the basics of operating Canadarm2 and spacewalking, meaning he would need less training in Canada and the US.

Underwater training

Shortly after evaluations, Hadfield served as commander of the 2010 NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO 14), a two-week undersea excursion off Key Largo, Florida. During his stay in the Aquarius laboratory, Hadfield led a four-man crew that carried out activities and experiments similar to those that will be conducted during Expedition 34/35.

In July 2010, Hadfield served in another analogue mission, the Pavilion Lake Research Project based northeast of Vancouver, BC. He joined NASA astronauts and scientists from US and Canadian space agencies for studies of rock formations and microbial activities like those present on the early Earth. The ongoing research project will help future space explorers study the Martian surface for signs biological activity.

Attired in a training version of his Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit, Hadfield is moved by a crane to be submerged in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) at NASA's Johnson Space Center for spacewalk training. (Credit: NASA)

Back-up astronaut

Hadfield is also training as the backup for NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who is preparing to launch to the Station in mid-July 2012. Like Hadfield, she will serve first as a flight engineer, then commander during her four-month stay. If for some reason Williams is unable to launch, Hadfield will take her place and carry out her mission duties.

A specialist

Hadfield is considered a "specialist" on all but the Station's Russian hardware.

Specialists are required to possess a deeper knowledge of the various operating systems than either an "operator" or a "user"—another factor in where he trains and for how long.

His training is focused on the workings of the US solar power and thermal control systems as well as the US Destiny, European Columbus and Japanese Kibo science modules.

And despite Hadfield's proficiency with operating Canadarm2 and spacewalking—skills he cultivated on other missions, he still needs to stay sharp and prepared for tasks specific to his mission.

Spacewalk training in the world's biggest pool

At the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Hadfield prepares for spacewalks in NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a 23-and-a-half million litre swimming pool. The 12-metre deep water tank is large enough to accommodate mockups of Space Station components, allowing astronauts to rehearse their external activities.


The Station crews also gather in Houston for safety training and simulations that require them to demonstrate their readiness to deal with the hazards of space flight. There is instruction in science experiments and physical evaluations for the many medical experiments the astronauts participate in as well.


Hadfield is also required to maintain his proficiency on Canadarm2 operations. The robot arm operations surrounding the berthing activities associated with the rendezvous of supply craft are among the mission's most critical activities.

Chris Hadfield trains to use Canadarm2 to grab a free-flying spaceship and dock it to the ISS at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. (Credit: NASA)

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