Today we are launching a special feature on Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s six month mission to the International Space Station (ISS) scheduled to launch on December 5th. As a member of Expedition 34 he will be Flight Engineer 1 and for Expedition 35 he will become the first Canadian to command the ISS.
Our special feature will cover Chris’ journey through his current training, the launch, his six months in space and his return home. Along the way we’ll post stories, photo’s and video of the journey. Please join us as Chris reaches new personal highs as well as showcasing the right stuff Canada is capable of producing.
Special feature web address: http://spaceref.ca/news/chris-hadfield
The following article from SpaceRef’s Space Quarterly magazine is from one of several interviews we’ve done with Chris.
Chris Hadfield, Preparing to Command the International Space Station
By Elizabeth Howell
Ask Chris Hadfield how long he’s been working to command the International Space Station (ISS), and he’ll tell you: “Realistically, it took my whole life.”
It wasn’t just visiting Mir in 1995, or performing the first Canadian spacewalk in 2001, or helming the CapCom position for a number of shuttle missions that prepared him, he said. To Hadfield it was a process that started in childhood when the Sarnia native – raised on a corn farm – was selected to go to a more advanced elementary school in the city. At age 13, he joined the Air Cadets; by 19, Hadfield was working for the Canadian Armed Forces while going to Royal Roads Military College and the Royal Military College of Canada. Throw in his experience as a test pilot in Cold Lake and for the North American Aerospace Defence Command, and you can begin to understand why this lifelong space cadet landed astronaut candidate status in 1992, at the age of 32.
“A large part of it is just luck, what you’re happened to be born with,” Col. Hadfield said by phone from Florida, where he spoke with Space Quarterly one day before the final launch of the space shuttle program on July 8. “I had the right height, the right level of brainpower, and the right amount of coordination: things I have no control over.” His next assignment in space is his most challenging yet: Hadfield will be the first Canadian to command a six-person ISS crew.
His presence on the station itself is a Canadian coup as Hadfield will only be the second person from Canada to visit for an extended period. But what’s more, it is the first time a Canadian has held command over any crew at all. Canada’s flight in space began in 1984 when Marc Garneau was a payload specialist, responsible for just a few experiments. A decade later, the first Canadian mission specialists flew, which allowed these astronauts to fly the Canadarm, take on more responsibility in the shuttle and eventually, perform spacewalks. After nearly three decades of Canada in space carefully building up experience, Hadfield’s journey will take the country to the next level: a crew command.
Hadfield will leave for the ISS on a Soyuz rocket in November 2012 with cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and American astronaut Thomas Marshburn for a six month trip in space. As the commander of five others on Expedition 35, he will oversee a mix of people, including a Navy SEAL–“a good guy to have in a crisis,” he jokes–two veterans of the Russian air force, an American doctor, and a Russian engineer.
Details of the mission were still being finalized as of press time but will include two spacewalks and various duties for running experiments on the ISS.
“You wouldn’t believe the complexity and the level of analysis in trying to get the right match and skill set,” Hadfield said. Some people, he explained, cannot grasp how to manoeuvre the robotic Canadarm in the flat lighting conditions of space. Others have trouble coordinating themselves “outside” the spacecraft when attempting to perform spacewalks. “People are really good at some stuff and don’t have a natural bent to do others,” he said. For this crew, though, “there is almost nothing up there that everybody can’t do. We have a deep reserve and I’m pretty confident that I can ask anybody to do anything.”
Hadfield, who has been learning Russian almost since the day he joined the Canadian Space Agency, is now working to make the training for an ISS expedition easier for the astronauts who come after him. Training for the shuttle and training for the ISS are similar in some ways: there are systems to study, simulations to perform, and certain tasks that must be mastered before taking flight. The Russians, however, require a demanding set of oral exams with the people who actually built the systems. No such equivalent test exists in NASA. The contractors quiz the astronauts in Russian, who must respond in the same language. An interpreter is always offered, but Hadfield decided to forego the option to demonstrate he could communicate in the language. For technical written exams, he usually takes the interpreter because he wants to ensure he is describing the system correctly.
“You have to learn the full system–rendezvous, docking, and landing–the real heart of the Soyuz. That’s what I did for the nine months from fall to spring. Now that I’ve made it through these hoops, my training is almost exclusively simulators, more complex scenarios.”
The Russians have been flying Soyuz spacecraft for four decades, but every one is slightly different. Further, there have been different types of the systems over the years. For the type Hadfield is flying, Soyuz TMA-M, textbooks are not yet fully available.
The vehicle not only looks different, but behaves differently, adding a level of complexity for new astronauts coming in.
“Because the vehicle is in the process of changing, there are no textbooks, or the textbooks they have aren’t updated. I spent a lot of time going through these right-off-the-presses-type textbooks and they’re full of errors. I end up working with the Russian instructors to learn what the errors are,” he said. “What I do also is take all that information and write summary training manuals for the astronauts, specifically the English-speaking astronauts coming after me, so they don’t have to go through the teeth-gnashing I did to understand,” he said. “If it’s an unvetted first-draft document explaining a system in a foreign language, it’s laborious to learn that way.”
Praise From his Peers
Hadfield has worked at the Johnson Space Center in Houston for the better part of 18 years, although he has also spent long stretches of time in Russia to learn the Soyuz spacecraft. His first spaceflight assignment to the Mir space station also happened to be a first for a Canadian. At the time he flew, Hadfield had only been an astronaut for three years, but took a lead role in piloting the Canadarm. These tasks demonstrated the depth of Hadfield’s talent and his adaptability in different situations, said crewmate Jerry Ross. Ross, now the chief of the vehicle integration test office at Johnson, said Hadfield’s CapCom experience shows he can get along with anybody, even under tense situations. “We’ve been fortunate to have some outstanding representatives here from the [Canadian Space] Agency. Chris has certainly been one of the best performers by far,” Ross said.
“He knows, being an aviation kind of guy, what is important. Sometimes, it’s best to be quiet and to let the guys in orbit do their thing.”
Artist Paul Fjeld has designed patches for all of Chris Hadfield’s missions, including the latest crew one for Expedition 35. Fjeld describes the patch as “a view from orbit representing the station looking at sunrise. The arc of the horizon and the beams of light evoke the idea of a bow shooting our minds to imagine future destinations, such as Mars.” But it took a few tries to get the right idea.
“It was difficult at first, then really easy” Fjeld recalled of the design process. “I threw out a couple of notions – what do you want to see, peg their taste based on previous ones, and I got the notions of it. I threw a bunch of designs together, sent them off and they bombed. None of them worked.
“However,” he said, “Chris got in touch with me and said, ‘Why not a phone conversation?’. So he, Tom Marshburn, and I talked for 45 minutes. It was a great conversation about what the space experience was really like for them, and after that, the patch just popped out and everyone really liked it,” he said. “Chris has so many different sides to him; he gets stuff done. He’s one of these magic people who thinks about what he wants to do, and just does it. And he doesn’t look down on you. He really brings you up so you feel you’re at his level.”
Outreach for Tomorrow
Mindful of the opportunities he received during elementary school, Hadfield has made a point of talking with Canadian students to share his experiences in the program and to get a sense of what they are looking for in the space program. When he was working regularly in Houston, Hadfield would talk with students a few times a week over Skype. Dubbed “On the Lunch Pad,” the program ran to great success with help from the Canadian Space Agency. The time-zone difference in Russia makes it more challenging for him to get the same level of interaction, but he still tries to speak with students at least one evening a week, after his other duties are done.
“I hear adults saying all the time that the magic of space is gone. It used to be inspiring, and now it’s mundane. But I think that’s the natural perspective of being a normal human being,” Hadfield said.
“I regularly am slapped in the face with the level of interest and excitement and enthusiasm and optimism and brightness the young Canadians have. It’s just an exact echo of what it was like for me growing up, and when I was first an astronaut 20 years ago.”
One Eye on the Sky, the Other on the Future
Hadfield describes himself as fully employed with his mission for the next three years, between the training, the flight itself and then the year or so of debriefing afterward. Trying to predict anything afterward, he adds, is “a fool’s game.” Life changes quickly, and Hadfield is cognizant that one bad result at the doctor’s office could derail his plans to make it to the station. As such, he makes a point of savouring the experiences he already had in space.
For the past decade he has continually told the media that his pair of spacewalks on the station in 2001 was the defining moment in his astronaut career. Among other duties, he did the foundational work to build Canadarm2, a robotic arm now in regular use onboard the station. As the second spacewalk wrapped up, Mission Control broadcast the Canadian national anthem in space, another first. American crewmate Scott Parazynski, who was also “outside” at the time, was dubbed an “honorary Canadian” as a part of the occasion. “The experience of being out on a spacewalk is unparalleled; it is just an overwhelming personal and professional experience, but mostly at the straight visceral human level, being alone in the universe,” he recalled. “It’s not just an amazing perspective and a place to be, but also a pinnacle at a professional point of view–all of the qualifications that led to get to the point where I got to go outside.”
Looking ahead, there are some constants that Hadfield said he is sure about. This upcoming mission will likely be his last mission in space. As such, a large part of his focus these days is bringing up to speed new astronauts Jeremy Hansen and David St-Jacques, both selected by the CSA in 2009. When the shuttle was at its peak number of flights during his tenure, there were up to six flights a year. Hadfield recalls learning from the other astronauts by osmosis. On his first mission in space, a lot of the time he would be watching crewmate Ross to figure out what to do. On the ground, it was easy to buttonhole somebody in the corridor to talk about a procedure or system.
The astronaut office is a lot sparser these days with the shuttle program completed and the new emphasis on long-duration station missions. As such, Hadfield said he is trying to create training opportunities for St-Jacques and Hansen so that they get the interaction and job-shadowing knowledge that the younger Hadfield received from his peers when he first became an astronaut. The Soyuz mission will be a part of that. While Hadfield is orbiting for six months, Hansen will serve as the “main support astronaut” in the American astronaut office. He will accompany Hadfield to Russia to audit classes, support the senior astronaut’s family during the mission, and continually work from Mission Control during the expedition.
There is only room for one liaison, but St-Jacques will also take on yet-to-be-determined duties to gain experience himself, Hadfield noted. “The station right now is pretty much guaranteed for a decade and maybe several years after that,” Hadfield said, referring to an agreement signed by all station partners a few months ago. “I think there’s an excellent chance that both of them will have a similar experience to what Bob [Thirsk] and I had on the station.” Thirsk was the first Canadian to fly a long-duration mission onboard the station, a mission he completed last year.
With the station complete, Hadfield said he is excited for the opportunity Hansen and St-Jacques will have in performing experiments, working with Canadarm2 and its robotic manipulator Dextre, and – if they’re lucky – stepping into space themselves, as he did in 2001.
“I think there’s an excellent chance that both of them will have similar experience to what Bob had and I had: to help to run the place for six months.”
So after 20 years of looking to the sky for himself, Hadfield says he is looking forward to looking up to Hansen and St-Jacques’ contributions as the International Space Station evolves.
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