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Chris Hadfield: From humble roots to lofty heights

Inspired by the race to the Moon

Raised on a farm in southern Ontario, astronaut Chris Hadfield has carved out an enviable career for himself as a military aviator, distinguished test pilot and heralded Canadian Space Agency (CSA) pioneer.

His desire and drive to excel as an astronaut date back to his childhood in Milton, not far from his Sarnia birthplace.

"The burning fire that made me want to pursue this for my whole life was absolutely turned on by watching the race to the Moon, eventually seeing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on its surface," said Hadfield, who recalled the exploits of the early US and Soviet space pioneers.

The 13-year-old son of a Canadian airline pilot, Hadfield entered aviation with the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, winning scholarships for flight instruction.

After graduating from high school as an Ontario Scholar, Hadfield was eager to test his independence and initiative. As a maturing teen, he decided to "bum around" Europe for six months, living frugally as a ski instructor.

Chris Hadfield, as a young boy, when he was inspired to become an astronaut by Aldrin and Armstrong's landing on the Moon. (Credit: Chris Hadfield)

Upon his return, he joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1978. He graduated from the Royal Military College with honours and a degree in mechanical engineering. Along the way, Hadfield completed basic flight training as the top student. In 1983, he finished first in basic jet training.

Hadfield trained and served as a fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force. As an accomplished CF-18 Hornet pilot, he earned a spot at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, where he was honoured as the top graduate in 1988.

Next, he served as an exchange officer and test pilot with the U.S. Navy, enabling his dream of spaceflight to build momentum. He was named the Navy's top test pilot in 1991.

Hadfield as an Air Cadet glider pilot circa 1975. (Credit: Chris Hadfield)

The right stuff

And on June 8, 1992, the CSA confirmed Hadfield's "right stuff." The 32-year-old Air Force captain joined three others, selected from more than 5,300 applicants, as the country's second class of astronauts.

The first of his two shuttle flights headed for Russia's Mir Space Station in 1994. Hadfield distinguished himself as the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm in space and the only astronaut from his country to board a Russian spacecraft.

On his second flight in April 2001, Chris performed the first Canadian spacewalk, soaring over British Columbia as he attached Canadarm2 to the International Space Station (ISS). Later in that mission, he was at the controls of the Canadarm as it received Canadarm2's launch cradle in "Canada's first robotic handshake in space."

In 2009, Hadfield trained as Bob Thirsk's backup for Expedition 20/21. Thirsk's 188-day ISS mission set the stage for a Canadian command.

A year later, Hadfield led a 13-day NASA-sponsored undersea mission in the Florida Keys called NEEMO 14. During the exercise, his leadership skills were on display as he and three others used the buoyant waters to demonstrate how a habitat might be assembled on the surface of the moon or an asteroid.

Hadfield during his first spacewalk in 2001. (Credit: NASA)

A Canadian commander

In September 2010, Hadfield's third spaceflight was announced: Expedition 34/35. This time he will command the ISS, another first for Canada. He's scheduled to take the helm on March 13, 2013, leading a crew that includes two Americans and three Russians during the second half of his five months aboard the sprawling orbital science lab.

During his mission Hadfield will be tasked with using Canadarm2. As well as performing maintenance tasks, he will be responsible for several Canadian and international experiments, taking full advantage of the Station's capacity for cutting-edge science in the near-weightlessness environment.

Hadfield's passion for music will also come to the fore during his stay on the ISS. A guitarist, Chris is known for performing solo and in bands, including the astronaut rock outfits Max Q and Bandella. Awaiting him on board the Station is a guitar made in Vancouver. Time permitting, he is considering recording the first-ever album from space.

Hadfield strums a Larrivée Parlor guitar similar to the one he will use aboard the ISS. (Credit: Larrivée Guitars)

At the age of 52, Hadfield still nurses a professional ambition to see Canada recognized for its strategic contributions to the exploration of space. Referring to his appointment as Commander, Hadfield states,

"It's like earning the gold medal at the Olympics. It's something for Canadians to take pride in. It's something to point out to each other and say, 'Hey, we do good things. We are capable, and we are respected."

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