After five months in space and 26 years of living away, Canada’s favourite astronaut is finally home.
It was his tweets – photos of our planet from space coupled with his lyrical observations – that rocketed Chris Hadfield to fame. These pictures are wondrous. Some read like a travel brochure, “Here’s Victoria, B.C. Have tea at the Empress and take time to walk through Butchart Gardens”; while others are poetic, “Like a pointed toe into icy water – Long Point, Lake Winnipeg, from orbit.” All of them give us a glimpse of our planet, and our country, through Hadfield’s eyes.
Now that he’s back on Earth, we asked him about those images, Canada and coming home.
What was it like for you to see Canada from space?
“I first saw our country from space almost 20 years ago from on-board a space shuttle while helping to build MIR. But I just got glimpses of it. I think maybe once or twice I got to get my nose against the glass and go across the country. It was like stealing glances at Earth and stealing glances at Canada.
This time I was in space for five months. I got to choose when I wanted to look at Canada. I could just look out of the window and say, ‘There’s Winnipeg. I know what’s coming. I can see the trajectory and I know when I’m going to see James Bay and Moosonee …’ I had time to really savour the entire history, geology and geography of our country over and over again. It became very much like an old friend.
I felt this ever-growing sense of pride. I got to see the whole world 16 times a day, around and around: this is the part that helped form who I am, this is where I’m from, and where I’m going back to. It’s a view I did my best to transmit to all Canadians and help them see our country that same way: as one wonderful, capable, well-behaved place in amongst an entire world.”
For an image of Cape Breton you said every Canadian should walk the Cabot Trail. Tell us more.
“We walked the Cabot Trail: we’ve been in Baddeck and stayed at Margaree Harbour and been to the Fortress of Louisbourg. It is some of our oldest European culture.
And when you fly through space and come across Cape Breton and go across the Atlantic and then immediately see Scotland and Ireland – it just slaps you in the face that this is the same place. These rocks were torn apart by continental drift but they still resemble each other in climate, and geology and in feeling.
So I think it gives a real sense of place and history to walk the Cabot Trail and not just to say you walked it, but to think about it – to let it soak up through your feet and be part of you.”
Where else should every Canadian should go and see?
“The beaches of Vancouver Island: Walk Long Beach. Look at the Pacific Ocean from Canada. Watch the sunset.
The Fraser Valley: Drive through and see the great boiling water pouring out of the mountains.
Jasper: The epitome of the beauty of the Rockies. When you drive up that long valley you want to smack someone and say, ‘Look at that! Look how beautiful that is!’
The Prairies: I’ve driven across the Prairies in a 1962 Volkswagen, nothing was working, and it was just me singing with the windows down. And I’ve flown across the Prairies in an F/A-18 down low just [60 metres] off the ground. Something that took days in a Volkswagen took one day in an F/A-18, and in both cases you actually smell it, and see it and feel it. I think all Canadians should cross the Prairies, either driving or by train, and get a sense of the huge vastness and potential.
The Great Lakes: I grew up on the Great Lakes and there are a couple of pictures I took where it’s almost like a music conductor sweeps out his hand to the entire brass section. I tried to get pictures that show it as one great geologic, geographic and really important part of the world and our country.
Our country is just full of little tiny special places. My son suggested I ask people what I should take pictures of and why. Most asked for their hometown. People are really proud of where they are from. They find it inherently interesting and beautiful. I feel that way about the whole country.”
On Twitter you mentioned you played golf in Ulukhaktok, Victoria Island in the Inuvik Region. What is it like to play a round above the Arctic Circle?
“It’s the best golf course you can imagine for that set of circumstances, but it’s a tough place to run a golf course. The greens are just oiled sand and the rough is really rough. You need to be good with your game – but you never get over the wonder of playing golf there. It’s such an unexpected delight; it’s a lot of fun. The tenacity and the pride of the people up there are reflected by it. They like where they live so they put in a golf course.”
How does it feel to be coming home?
“I’m ecstatic. Because of good decisions made on behalf of the Canadian Space Agency I was able to stay proudly Canadian and wear the Canadian flag on my shoulder. It wasn’t easy for our country to set that up, but it was the right thing to do.
I loved living and working at the Johnson Space Center, and in Russia, but at the same time it never felt like home. It’s a place I’ve lived a long time but that feeling of being home, it’s never felt that way. Not the way I feel when I show my passport in Quebec and come back into Canada. So retiring, moving back, I couldn’t overstate the enormity of it in our [my family’s] lives.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.