This evening (Eastern Standard Time), Canadian Space Agency astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield will return to Earth after five months orbiting our planet in the International Space Station — eventually serving as commander of the mission.
At 53, Commander Hadfield is a veteran astronaut, having been in space previously to work on the construction of the ISS in 2001 (which included a 14-hour space walk) and on the Space Shuttle in 1995. But this mission, which is likely Commander Hadfield’s last, has had a particular influence on public perception of space and science because of his social media activity.
On Twitter, Commander Hadfield is nothing short of a social media superstar. His more than 820,000 followers have been enjoying unprecedented access to the life of an astronaut, as the charismatic and affable Canadian shares his views of the planet (both literal and philosophical), descriptions of his onboard experiments, and the mundane details of surviving in space.
While he has been in contact with Queen Elizabeth and Canada’s Prime Minister, bit has been his interchanges with students, followers (including William Shatner) and even Redditors that have really made him the most popular astronaut of the social age,
The result has been an unprecedented global interest in the Canadian Space Agency.
From the CBC:
The unexpected surge in interest prompted changes at the CSA, including adding more people to the team to handle media requests, which were flooding in from around the world.
“Our biggest surprise was the international response that we got with everything we did,” says Simard, noting calls places such as New Zealand, Australia and Brazil.
For observers, the interest Hadfield has generated is remarkable.
“He has been a phenomenon, and I mean that in the most positive sense,” says Marc Garneau, Canada’s first astronaut who later led the CSA and is now a Liberal MP.
“Not only was he setting a new precedent for Canada in becoming the first ever Canadian commander of the International Space Station … but in addition to that of course he has been a remarkably effective communicator to the ground.”
Now that it’s all ending, Commander Hadfield revealed his grand finale: The most amazing cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” ever.
David Bowie’s official Facebook page called it “possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created.” (Ever the pilot, Commander Hadfield altered the lyrics to make all the technical references up-to-date and relevant to the ISS.)
According to Wikipedia, Commander Hadfield has been recording an entire album in space — the first ever — because apparently he’s just that cool.
Commander Chris Hadfield, as a Canadian I want to thank you for representing us so admirably up there. Best wishes for a safe return voyage.