Chris Hadfield honoured for helping public understand science

The Globe and Mail

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield poses for a photo in this undated handout photo. The Royal Canadian Institute has selected Mr. Hadfield to receive its Sandford Fleming medal for contributions to the public understanding of science. (Chris Hadfield/The Canadian Press)

Through countless tweets, photos, videos and even songs, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has given the world an unexpectedly accessible and detailed portrait of daily life and work aboard the International Space Station. Now, the country’s oldest scientific society, the Royal Canadian Institute, has selected Mr. Hadfield to receive its Sandford Fleming medal for contributions to the public understanding of science.

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With two weeks to go in his stint as the first Canadian in charge of the orbiting laboratory, Mr. Hadfield will not be on hand to receive his medal, to be announced Wednesday at the Institute’s annual general meeting in Toronto. In a prerecorded acceptance from the space station, he said: “It’s so important to communicate the leading-edge work, the work that’s being done on the frontier, and bring it into the mainstream fabric of the Canadian public.”

Like other astronauts, Mr. Hadfield has made numerous media appearances from space, answered questions from students and generally shared his unbridled enthusiasm for science, technology and human spaceflight. But as a prolific employer of social media with more than 730,000 followers on Twitter, he has gone where no astronaut has gone before in generating public interest in doings aboard the station.

In awarding Mr. Hadfield the Fleming Medal, the institute notes that “his ability to relate space science to the public has served to highlight Canada’s role as a global contributor to space exploration.” The medal is named after Sir Sandford Fleming, the Scottish-born engineer and inventor who was a prominent advocate for science and technology in Canada before and after Confederation, and who helped establish the institute, which was incorporated in 1851.

Mr. Hadfield has been an astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency since 1992, and first travelled to orbit in 1995. In 2001, he became the first Canadian to perform a spacewalk, while attaching the Canadarm2 to the space station. His most recent flight is by far his longest, beginning with his departure for the space station aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule last December. On March 13, he took over as commander of the station.

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