Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is primed for his second trip on the shuttle

Andrew Phillips April 16 2001


Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is primed for his second trip on the shuttle

Andrew Phillips April 16 2001



Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is primed for his second trip on the shuttle

Andrew Phillips

By Andrew Phillips in Houston

When he isn’t getting ready to rocket into orbit, Chris Hadfield likes to drop by a Houstonarea bar called the Bayview Duck and play his guitar with what surely is the world’s only all-astronaut rock band. The group is called Max Q, which, as it turns out, is a little astronaut in-joke. Q, Hadfield explains in his careful way, is the symbol for dynamic pressure. And “max Q” is what engineers call the point during launch when air density and velocity combine to put the maximum amount of force on a spacecraft and its human cargo—an intense rocking and rolling that sounded just right as the name for a band out to pump up a neighbourhood hangout on a Friday night. “It seemed appropriate,” he says with a smile.

The real max Q is something Hadfield has experienced before, on his first space shuttle mission in 1995. If all goes as planned, he will go through it again shortly after 2:41 p.m. on April 19. That’s when the shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to lift off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, taking him and six fellow astronauts into orbit and a rendezvous with the International Space Station 400 km above the Earth. It is, he recounts in his matter-of-fact southern Ontario tones, quite a trip, still one of the rarest of human experiences and one shared by only seven other Canadians. Let him describe it:

“It’s like riding in the mouth of a huge dog. You’re being shaken and you’re helpless in the power of something of tremendous energy. There’s a semi-controlled explosion going on behind you. The solid rockets are just a tube of explosives 200 feet long and they burn till they’re out of fuel, like a Ro-

man candle. It’s a violent ride. The shuttle isn’t flexible, like an airplane. It’s very stiff. The seats vibrate side to side, so you’re getting rattled left-right on this rigid diving board that’s going up-down. You can’t even focus your eyeballs on the instruments in front of you.”

Two minutes and 20 seconds after liftoff, nearly 50 km above the Adantic Ocean, the solid rockets exhaust their fuel and explode away from the shuttle. For another 6V2 minutes, the vehicle accelerates smoothly to orbital speed, pressing the crew back into their seats with a force three times that of gravity. Then, suddenly, the engines cut off: “You’re instantly weighdess, as if you’ve fallen out of an airplane or jumped off a cliff. If you can imagine a big gorilla swinging you around and jumping on your chest and then throwing you off a cliff— that’s what it feels like.”

Hadfield leans back and smiles. Clearly, he can hardly wait.

And no wonder. His last flight was almost 5V2 years ago, in November, 1995. He was assigned almost immediately to STS-100, as the April 19 mission is called in NASA-speak, so it has been a long time coming. Not, he hastens to point out, that he and his fellow crew members (four Americans, a Russian and an Italian) have been waiting around. They have been preparing intensively for a mission that will be historic for Canada’s space program: Hadfield will become the first Canadian to walk in space, and will play the lead role in installing the new Canadian-built robot arm that is essential to complete construction of the space station. Every moment of the 12-day flight is meticulously planned, especially the sixhour space walks. “You have to invent the flight,” he says.

“It’s like writing a ballet, with the choreography and the sound track, minute by minute.” The goal, of course, is to make it all look easy, as Hadfield explains during a break in his hectic, seven-day-a-week training regimen. The previous day, he spent 12 hours rehearsing his space walks, floating upside down in an enormous training pool at the Johnson Space Center just south of Houston—and he has the bruises on his right arm to show for it. Pressure inside the space suit is 19 pounds per square inch, and the physical wear and tear can be intense. “It was a pretty rough day,” he says.

But by the time Hadfield begins his first space walk (or EVA, for extra-vehicular activity), on the fourth day of the mission, everything must be flawless. “You have a zero failure tolerance,” he says. “There’s an expectation of perfection. It’s a lot to live up to.”

In fact, Hadfield scarcely bothers to conceal his annoyance that most people these days take a ho-hum attitude towards space travel. Shuttle missions to build the space station, the massive research facility that will eventually be 109 m long and weigh 454 tonnes when it is I completed by 2006, rate only back-page treatment. Most Americans would be hard-pressed

to name a single astronaut from the current crop— though Canadians, with fewer homegrown celebrities vying for their attention, are more likely to know Marc Garneau, Julie Payette or Hadfield himself. “We do ourselves a disservice by making space flight look so easy,” he says. “It’s incredibly hard, and it’s amazing that we’re as successful as we are.”

It doesn’t help that the first space tourist is due at the space station around the time that Hadfield’s team will be there. Dennis Tito, a 60-year-old former NASA engineer and wealthy California stock trader, has agreed to pay, by some accounts, as much as $30 million to the Russian space agency to take him there aboard one of its Soyuz spacecraft. The Russians’ partners—including NASA and the Canadian Space Agency— hate the idea. Tito hasn’t trained with the station’s crew, they say, and isn’t prepared for all emergencies that could arise. If current plans hold, the mission carrying Hadfield & Co. will end on April 30—the same day Tito is due to lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. But if bad weather delays STS-100 just a few days, they could overlap.

Hadfield, it becomes clear, is not amused—and not only because it makes space travel look like another rich man’s hobby. Imagine, he says, if someone had tried to buy a seat on Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic. “And what if we delay a week and we have all these people worrying about him instead of about building the station?” he wonders.

Ultimately, however, all that is just background noise to a man who set his sights on going into space when he was not quite 10 years old, living on his family’s farm near Milton, Ont., and watching on television as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the moon back in July, 1969. Canada had no astronauts or any plans to recruit them, but, Hadfield recalls: “I thought, ‘That’s what I’d like to do when I grow up.’ ” Unlike millions of other starstruck kids, he was dead serious. Soon after he met his wife, Helene, at White Oaks Secondary School in nearby Oakville (he was 16, she was just a week shy of her 15th birthday), he told her he

‘If you can imagine a gorilla swinging you around,

jumping on your chest and throwing you off a cliff— that’s what it feels like’

wanted to go into space. “I thought he was just trying to impress me,” she says now with a laugh. “It sounded like teenage bravado.”

In fact, Hadfield had a head start on his ambition.

His father, Roger, was a pilot with Air Canada and flew his own Piper Cub. He took Chris up and let him take the controls for the first time at the age of three; by 16, he had his own pilots licence. His brothers,

David and Phillip, both fly for Air Canada as well.

“The atmosphere Chris was raised in was steeped in aviation,” says Roger Hadfield, now 67 and retired with his wife, Eleanor, on their farm. “You couldn’t have a conversation at the dinner table without talking about flying.” Chris Hadfield figured out that most astronauts were engineers and test pilots—so he signed up for the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont. He came first in his class at pilot’s school in Moose Jaw, Sask., then flew CF-18s out of Cold Lake, Alta., and Bagotville, Que. (he holds the rank of colonel). By 1986, however, it looked as if his dream might vanish. Canada was no longer recruiting astronauts. The Challenger shutde had exploded, killing its crew and putting the U.S. shuttle program on hold. The Hadfields, who married in 1981, were living in remote Bagotville; they already had two young children and Helene was pregnant with their third. Hadfield began to think he should face up to reality: “I came very close to saying, ‘Well, forget it. This is just not going to happen.’ ”

His fallback position was obvious.

Roger Hadfield had always wanted his sons to follow in his footsteps and fly for Air Canada, so Chris told his wife he would apply for a commercial pilot’s licence. It would mean more money, less time away from his family and a chance to move back home. But Helene argued him out of it: “I just said no—youd be bored silly at an airline.”

The next month, as it turned out,

Hadfield was accepted to test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Next, he flew out of the U.S. navy’s test centre in Maryland.

His job involved forcing aircraft out of control and then figuring out how to bring them back into safe flight—in many ways a more dangerous job than being an astronaut. “I never focused on

that,” says Helene. “If he died doing what he was happy doing, better that than dying in a car crash.”

In 1991, the U.S. navy named him its test pilot of the year. And with the kind of good fortune that strikes those who keep their goals clearly in sight, the next year Canada began recruiting astronauts again. “I finally had the CV I wanted to give them,” Hadfield recalls. “The dice were rolled many, many times and they came up lucky for me.” Some 5,330 applied; he was one of four selected as an astronaut candidate (or AsCan, as NASA unglamorously calls them).

The Hadfields moved to Houston, and in 1995 he flew his first mission, becoming the first (and only) Canadian to fly to Mir, the Russian space station that was sent plunging to a fiery

death on March 23. He was also the first Canadian to operate the original Canadarm, the shutde’s robot manipulator, in space. Fittingly, this month he and his fellow spacewalker, American Scott Parazynski, will install the new generation of Canadian-made robot on the space station. Formally known as the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (but nicknamed Canadarm2), the device is Canadas contribution to the station, its ticket to ride in space. It’s a remarkable system: a 17-m, $ 1.4-billion robot crane that will be able to “walk” along the space station, moving from one grapple point to another, and manipulate loads of up to 116 tonnes. Without it, the station cannot be completed.

During two planned space walks, Hadfield and Parazynski will unload Canadarm2 from Endeavour’s cargo bay, attach it to a docking port on the station, unfold its booms, bolt them

Chris Hadfield’s expanding universe

• Bom Aug. 29,1959, in Sarnia, Ont; raised near Milton, Ont., where his family owns a farm.

• Received his pilot’s licence at the age of 16.

• Joined the Canadian Forces in 1978; earned

a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the Royal Military College and master of science degree from the University ofTennessee.

• Served as a fighter pilot until 1987.

• Worked as a U.S. military test pilot until 1992.

• Chosen as a Canadian astronaut in 1992.

• First went into space in 1995 aboard the space shuttle Atlantis as a mission specialist.

• Scheduled to take off again on April 19 aboard the shuttle Endeavour. “It’s like riding in the mouth of a huge dog,” Hadfield says. “You’re being shaken and you’re helpless in the power of something of tremendous energy”

into place and power it up. The entire assembly, put together in Brampton, Ont., will be subjected to all the pressures of the launch, and absolutely must work once it is unpacked. Hadfield can control his own performance through rigorous training, but worries about things outside his control—like software glitches or damage during launch. “This arm has never been put together with all its gear and tried—not once,” he says. That isn’t possible on Earth, so the first complete test will be the real thing, 400 km up.

That kind of pressure keeps astronauts supremely focused— and earns many of them reputations as arrogant prima donnas. Around NASA, Hadfield is considered just the opposite: generous with his time even when work is pressing in from all sides. Aside from singing and playing guitar with Max Q, he also performs in a Celtic quartet called Astronique. Just over a month before his launch date, he was out late on a Friday at the Bayview Duck, then singing at an outdoor St. Patrick’s Day celebration the next day. Astronique has recorded songs on two CDs, performed as far afield as Celtic music festivals in France, and raised $45,000 last year for a “space school” that since 1994 has brought 250 teenagers from 20 countries to Houston for threeweek summer programs. The Hadfields even put up several students each summer in their own home. “You just say what you need, and Chris is there,” says Geoff Mules, the school’s founder.

Honours have come with the job—including having the airport in Sarnia, where he was born 41 years ago, named after him. But there have been costs, as well—including raising his children outside Canada. The Hadfields have lived in the

United States since 1987 but remain passionate patriots and wanted their kids to retain a Canadian identity. They began worrying when their oldest son, Kyle, now 18, was about to attend high school. The local secondary school in their neighbourhood near Johnson Space Center was a typical American institution—a couple of thousand students and, being in Texas, a sign declaring it a “weapons-free zone.”

Instead, they sent Kyle to the private Lakefield College School near Peterborough, Ont. The others—Evan, who turns 16 on his father’s scheduled launch date of April 19, and Kristin, now 14—followed him there. “We asked them, ‘Do you feel Canadian or American?’, and they all answered American,” explains Helene, a systems administrator for a chemical firm. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” she hastens to add, “but we wanted them to experience Canadian values and society as well.” Chris Hadfield says he tries to avoid being part of the “zed police”—correcting U.S. pronunciation and mannerisms—but can’t always resist.

Eventually, they say, they will return to Canada, and hope their children will setde there as well. But there are other adventures still ahead—starting with a move to Star City, near Moscow, this summer when Hadfield takes up a six-month appointment as NASA’s director of operations in Russia. Before that, though, there’s the little matter of visiting the space station—and a second date with “max Q.”

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