Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield blasted off in a Soyuz capsule Wednesday morning, embarking on a five-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The spacecraft launched from Russia’s manned-space facility in Kazakhstan, taking Hadfield and two other astronauts—American Tom Marshburn and Russian Roman Romanenko—to the orbiting laboratory.
The three will join three other astronauts working at the ISS, where Hadfield’s duties will include carrying out scientific experiments, operating Canadarm2, performing robotics tasks, and taking part in two scheduled space walks.
Hadfield, a veteran of two space shuttle missions, will take over as the space station’s commander in March—the first Canadian to do so.
Gov. Gen. David Johnston, who watched the event on a giant TV screen at the Canadian Space Agency in Quebec City, described Hadfield’s launch as “a great day for Canada, a great day for the world of discovery and innovation.”
During the two-day trip to the ISS, Hadfield, who is fluent in Russian, will be backup for spacecraft skipper Romanenko, ready to shoulder the Soyuz piloting role if the event arises—a responsibility he began training for a decade ago.
The launch took place at Gagarin’s Start at Baikonur Cosmodrome, the launch pad from which Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin blasted off in 1961 for the first manned space flight. In 1957, the pad was used to launch the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1.
Since the decommissioning of NASA’s space shuttle fleet in 2011, the Soyuz is now the only craft capable of taking astronauts to the space station. Although 46 years old, many improvements have been made to the spacecraft since it was first launched in 1966.
In his spare time at the outpost, Hadfield an accomplished rhythm guitarist and vocalist who regularly performs with two astronaut bands, plans to record songs he composed with his musician brother Dave. The production gear he will need is already stowed aboard the Space Station.
He also plans to collaborate with multiple Juno Award winner Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies fame to write and premiere a new song in time for Music Monday 2013.
The song is being commissioned by CBCMusic.ca and the Coalition for Music Education to celebrate music education in schools across Canada. The song will be premiered on CBCMusic.ca in March 2013, with Hadfield performing at the Space Station and Robertson and the Barenaked Ladies on earth with a high school choir.
“I want to communicate the incredible experience of being in space—what it’s like to launch on a rocket and live on the International Space Station,” Hadfield says on the Music Monday website.
“But Ed and I think that the real satisfaction will come from performing this song with thousands of young people across Canada for Music Monday, connecting the Space Station to Earth through music.”
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