A Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan this morning, carrying Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, as well as American astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, on a historic flight to the International Space Station (ISS).
The history will need to wait for about three months, though. Hadfield, Marshburn and Romanenko join ISS Expedition 34 as Flight Engineers, under the command of American astronaut Kevin Ford, until March 2013. Ford, along with cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin, will then return to Earth, and Hadfield will take over as Expedition 35 begins, becoming the first Canadian to command the International Space Station.
After a distinguished career as a pilot in the Canadian Armed Forces, in which he flew over 90 different types of aircraft, Hadfield was chosen as one of four Canadian astronauts in 1992. Since then, he flew on the second NASA space shuttle mission to dock with the Russian space station, Mir, in 1995, and he was Chief Astronaut of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) from 1996 to 2000. He participated in multiple shuttle missions, including 25 as CAPCOM, the voice of mission control to orbiting astronauts from 1996 to 2001, and as a crew member on the space shuttle Endeavor as it delivered the Canadarm2 to the ISS in 2001 — a mission where he also made history as the first Canadian to leave a spacecraft and float freely in space.
This will be his third mission into space, but according to the CBC, he didn't feel that he needed a third trip for any sense of personal accomplishment.
“I instead feel an obligation to fulfill this role, to do this thing right. I would not have felt hard done by if I didn’t get a third space flight.” he said.
At the same time, though, he feels both a sense of elation and perhaps a bit of dread.
"You expect someone to come in and go, 'Wait a minute, you aren't a guy that could command a spaceship, come on.' You expect to get busted by somebody because it's just such an unlikely thing to ever happen in your life, and so it absolutely thrills me just as a person." he told CBC News.
Hadfield's role as Commander for Expedition 35 is an important event for the CSA and for Canada. One the one hand, we have had one Canadian space commander already, but he exists solely in the realm of fiction (Captain Kirk may have been from Iowa, but William Shatner is from Montreal). Having a real-life equivalent to James T. Kirk (or at least the Canadian at his core) sets an excellent example for how Canada is becoming a bigger part of a field that has long been dominated by the United States and Russia.
[ Related: Chris Hadfield calls space ‘an amazing place to be’ ]
Hadfield approaches the milestone with typical Canadian humility and perspective, though.
"Yes, I'll take it seriously and yes, it's important for Canada, but for me as just a Canadian kid, it makes me want to shout and laugh and do cartwheels."