19 May 2013

Welcome Back, Commander Hadfield!

When I was a child, the Apollo space missions were taking place. My brother wore a home-made space-suit for Hallowe'en, and we learned everything we could about the American space program. It was exciting to see the formation of the Canadian Space Agency and to find the CSA's Facebook page. I've even been lucky enough to meet two Canadian astronauts, Marc Garneau and Bob Thirsk. But for a couple of months now, I've had an astronaut in space as my Facebook friend and Twitter contact!
This is astronaut Chris Hadfield's profile photo from Facebook!

For the past five months, it's been fascinating to follow the activities of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield in orbit aboard the International Space Station. Space fans and science fans around the world have been able to keep track of Hadfield's journey in many ways. The usual news reports on television, radio, and in the newspapers -- usual for any space program -- have been supplemented with an amazing number of updates directly from Hadfield.

With the help of his grown son back on Earth, Hadfield has sent a series of Twitter updates that give readers an interesting perspective on the life of astronauts aboard the space station. Many of these Twitter updates have a photograph or a short video attached! You can see an album of fifteen of these photographs at The Guardian newspaper's website. The same website has a three-minute video with a few highlights of the many videos Hadfield has shared.

My friends and I are currently having a friendly argument about which video is our favourite. One space fan likes the haircut best of all -- in this sequence, another astronaut is trimming Hadfield's hair back to a short brush-cut, using an electric clipper hooked up to a vacuum hose so the bits of hair don't drift around and make a hazardous mess. Several of us were fascinated to watch Hadfield doing a simple experiment at a Canadian student's suggestion: what happens when you wring out a washcloth, in space? When Hadfield co-wrote a song with Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies, there were several recordings made so that Hadfield could sing in real time with both this Canadian music group and with choirs from Canadian schools.

One of the most popular videos is Hadfield's version of a song by David Bowie, called "A Space Oddity."

Hadfield's current video interview is posted here on YouTube. It takes almost an hour -- something that might be nice to listen to while getting homework books organized, or doing some sketching, or washing dishes. (Can you tell that I like to multi-task, and also to integrate my science interests into the rest of my day?) An additional bonus for Canadians is that Hadfield speaks in French for portions of the interview; if you're an English-speaker who is learning French, this video is a good opportunity to practise picking out words in your expanding vocabulary of science words.

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