Most astronauts are engineers, fighter pilots or scientists, but the next Canadian in space will bring an artist's sensibility to his command of the International Space Station.
Chris Hadfield is scheduled to rocket off Dec. 5 for six months in the claustrophobic confines of the space station from a launch pad on a barren plateau in Kazakhstan, along with Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn. Where some might see a long stint of isolation, the veteran Canadian astronaut sees precious time to create music and visual art.
Mr. Hadfield has collaborated with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies to write a song he will record in the space station, using the guitar, keyboard and ukulele on board, along with the clings and clangs of the machinery that scrubs carbon dioxide from the air and runs systems. The space-themed song is already being rearranged for distribution across Canada for use by childrens' choirs, school bands and anyone who wants to pay homage to space travel.
Mr. Hadfield, 53, a retired Canadian air force colonel, tried out the untitled track with his band, Bandella, in a Houston club on Wednesday night. "We had a big crowd and everybody loved it. Ed is a great songwriter, and he's rightfully proud of his little ditty," Mr. Hadfield said in an interview.
Mr. Hadfield is also working with a Japanese artist named Takahiro Ando to take images of the Earth using a watery lens to refract and reflect them. The process plays on a Japanese tradition of admiring the moon through liquid reflections, whether from a pond, a pan or cup of sake.
The experiment "module," as it is called, is a plastic drum with a clear end that will allow Mr. Hadfield to place it against the space station's windows. He will inject water droplets into the drum while a super high-definition camera rolls and captures fine-resolution still photographs. "I will try to be Andosan's hands and eyes," Mr. Hadfield said from Houston.
Mr. Hadfield, who learned Russian so he can co-pilot the Soyuz spacecraft that will deliver the crew to the space station, has been training for more than two years to run the various systems and experiments under his command.
In a 20-year career in the space program, Mr. Hadfield has spent 20 days in space. He's also ventured out on spacewalks twice, where he was struck by how "it more than goes into your eyes. It fills your entire mind. It's just an overwhelming beauty."
"I'm really looking forward to the wealth and privilege of time six months will offer to see the world in a new way, to see it as an artistic and human place, not just through geography and science. ... I want to see the Earth through the chance artistry that looking at the Earth brings."
Mr. Hadfield is happy to go on at length about the art projects involved in his mission. But he plays down the idea he's more artistic than any other astronaut. Julie Payette sings like an angel and the others "really are incredibly well-rounded individuals. ... I think I look like the guy [with] the OPP who pulls you over," said the mustachioed Mr. Hadfield.