Kennedy Space Center – One day before the Space Shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to launch on her final mission, veteran Canadian astronaut and future commander of the International Space Station Chris Hadfield reflects on his mission he flew on Endeavour on STS-100.
For Hadfield the memory that will forever endure from his second flight into space on Endeavour in April of 2001 is his first spacewalk which also happened to be the first spacewalk by a Canadian.
“To climb down into the lower belly of Endeavour and clear everything out of the airlock, evacuate it, open that hatch and I was EV1 so I was the first guy outside, and so to grab and pull yourself out of Endeavour, the ship that brought you there, out into the void of space, and then look around where you are, you’re in the payload bay of Endeavour there’s the guys looking though the window right behind you and this huge station up above you, and to climb up high and to look down and see Endeavour nestled into the tip of the station there, it’s a perspective that there’s no way to simulate, there’s no way really even with our years and years of training to get yourself ready for that incredible juxtaposition of that spaceship attached to that space station with the world and universe right there, and so that visual image is huge.”
Hadfield really, really strongly recommends spacewalking, he describes it as an amazing human experience.
Another memory Hadfield remembers of Endeavour and that mission is backing away from the station. Hadfield had been assigned to the flight for four and a half years and had trained all those years for this two week mission. To put into perspective, he said the years of training was longer this his undergraduate university degree.
“To back away after we had done every single thing we were supposed to do, and of course you come away with your top of the orbiter (Endeavour) facing the space station so you’re looking through the overhead windows, it’s pretty quiet, there’s the chatter of the crew, and there’s the boom boom of the thrusters as you start to fire them as you get clear. But it’s slow, it’s elephant ballet, and you come drifting away, and as you start to drift away suddenly you can see what you did. Up until then it’s been so myopic, you’ve been so close, it’s looking at the world through a microscope and suddenly your start to back away and you can see, and in our case we built Canadarm2 onto the space station and it was like a big smile underneath the station at the time, a big V underneath, and as we backed away suddenly you see could see this station we’d come up to just a week before or so, and now not only did it have this great big antenna that Scott (Parazynski) and I put outside but but it had this great big robot arm, poised like a praying mantis or something, ready for all the subsequent shuttles that were going to come up and build the rest of this thing and so that moment of backing away was a great sense of pride and peace, almost, in that we had been put in the seat to pull on the oars and we had done our job and as we’re backing away you can see the fruit of our labor and it was just great feeling as a group of human beings to have done that.”
Looking to the future Hadfield will have the privilege of being the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station in just over 19 months. The privilege he said was earned by Canada and he wants to make it clear to Canadians that he and Canada are not hitching a ride with the Russians. Hadfield feels insulted when he reads in the press that we’re hitching a ride. Hadfield is a test pilot and engineer and has been studying the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for 10 years and has trained to become “a super competent qualified pilot in the Soyuz“.
The space station has changed considerably since Hadfield first visited it 10 years ago and he faces different challenges as he prepares for his six month stay aboard the station.
“Now the space station is like an enormous sprawling laboratory complex apartment building made of a million parts and any of them can fail anytime. And most of the things that fail have redundant systems, but some of them you have to be able to go fix really quick and you have to know what you’re doing. And it’s a huge complicated place, and so how do you learn everything you need to know, how can you be ready and be ready to go out and not only lubricate the sarge joints but replace the ammonia pump or any of the other of myriad of things that might fail and the complexity has gone order of magnitude since the last time I was there, and so the real challenge is to over the several years that I’ve been training to get ready for it is to make sure that I’ve at least seen everything once and then to try and keep track of it all, and how do you remember something somebody told you three years ago, and our standard joke is everybody tells you ‘you just have to remember this one thing’, everybody in Japan, and Russia, Europe and Canada ‘just have to remember this one thing’, for the next five years and when it pops up don’t have forgotten it. And to try and keep all that stuff fresh in your mind so that you can then draw on the skills you need to maybe save the day. So the technical side is complex. But as the commander I have the other layer of responsibility for the six of us living on board and that responsibility started the day they said I would be commander so I’ve been working the crew ever since, I don’t want to meet people on orbit you know, we want to get up there with a real depth of mutual experience, so that no matter what comes along we can look at each other and go hey remember five years ago when we were under the ocean, this is like that. So I have been working since I was rumored to be the commander with the crew so we are cohesive as capable a group of people and so that my objective is we can come back after six months in space and go that was the best six months of my life not that was the hardest, or it might have been the hardest, but that was the best six months of my life and I really contributed and I really grew and got stuff out of it and I love this guys I went with, that’s what I’m trying to do as commander and that’s not all easy but that’s what I’m working at.”
What’s next after commanding the space station? Hadfield will have flown on the shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour, a Soyuz and flown to the both the Mir and International Space Stations so I asked him if he would like to fly the SpaceX Dragon? Unequivocally he said he would love to, but not just a Dragon but perhaps one of the other upcoming new spacecraft under development.
However only time will tell if Hadfield will fly into space again after returning from his six month tour of duty on the space station. Canada’s two newest astronauts have yet to fly and we would expect they’ll get their opportunity at some point. But there is no doubt that Hadfield’s dedication and skill which earned him and Canada the privilege of commanding the space station will certainly make him an attractive candidate if another opportunity comes to pass.
Hadfield, like the estimated 750,000 other people who will be here tomorrow, is excited to see Endeavour fly on her last mission tomorrow.