Canada’s Space Commander Superstar (+Video)

Back on Earth, accolades pour in for Chris Hadfield

Astronaut Chris Hadfield is feeling the love. 

In his five months in space, Hadfield—who’s in spaceman rehab at the moment readjusting to a life of gravity and enduring a barrage of tests—became a social media superstar, tweeting a veritable meteor shower of pictures from his perch in the International Space Station and taking requests from fans for experiments in zero gravity.

Fellow astronaut and now Liberal MP Marc Garneau once joked that he might have had a chance against Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in the Liberal leadership race if Twitter had been around when he was in space.

But Hadfield wasn’t the first astronaut with a Twitter account—he just used it better than his predecessors and went the extra mile with his cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” 

It was that last act that really pushed Hadfield’s fame into the stratosphere, a moving and sincere cover that proved Hadfield is more than a manly mustache and space commander—he’s also a certified rock(et) star. With over 950,000 Twitter followers and growing, he’s closing on a cool million. Forbes described him as “perhaps the most social media savvy astronaut ever.” Watch the video:

What comes next is anyone’s guess; if Hadfield has a plan, he hasn’t shared it yet. Garneau told the Toronto Star that Hadfield has “the world by the tail” at the moment. The Calgary Stampede has already announced he will lead the parade as its marshal.

The Globe and Mail is calling Hadfield the coolest man on (and off) the Earth. The Hamilton Spectator calls him the Canadian supernova that made space sexy again. Scientific American calls him “an astronaut for the 21st century.” Media around the world carried his “Space Oddity” video and the blogosphere is alight with Hadfield love. 

Geeky cult cartoonist Randall Munroe of XKCD notes Hadfield’s video “has probably done more for space industry than millions in public outreach.”

Emm Gryner, Hadfield’s Juno-nominated collaborator on the video, told Canada AM she had tried to convince the astronaut to cover something more obscure, but Hadfield stuck to his guns on “Space Oddity.” In two days, the video had scored more hits on YouTube than Bowie’s original—and was enthusiastically tweeted by Bowie himself. 

Hadfield has earned accolades for committing to the music. There is nothing ironic about the performance, and his sincerity is backed up with enough musical skill to keep it from being awkward or cheesy.

Return to Gravity

Although his days in space came to an abrupt end on the steppes of south-central Kazakhstan Monday, where he was pulled from his landing pod and plopped in a spacey-looking beach chair, he’s kept his followers up to date. His most recent tweet includes a picture of himself with is arms spread out “scarecrow on a tilt table” to measure his blood pressure.

Earlier, he tweeted about his return to gravity. 

“It is strange to talk and feel the weight of my lips and tongue! Dizzy too—would fail any sobriety test.”

In Houston, doctors will make sure his organs, bones, and muscles are adjusting to gravity and regaining strength and density. Meanwhile, the accolades keep pouring in.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Hadfield’s efforts were “nothing short of inspirational and have helped rekindle the dreams and excitement of becoming an astronaut.”

Gilles Leclerc, the CSA’s acting president, said the agency has “sought to explain and demonstrate the wonder of human spaceflight to a new generation of Canadians through this mission. Chris has spent his entire career speaking to students across Canada, and through this mission has become our space ambassador, inspiring Canada’s next space generation.”

Hadfield had help from his son Evan Hadfield, who acted as his volunteer social media coordinator. But whether the buzz they created can translate into long-term interest or political support for a Canada Space Agency on the wane is less certain. 

Last year a government-commissioned review found the agency was falling behind other countries. Reports of an exodus of staff has raised fears the CSA could be facing a serious decline—a sad state for a space agency that has historically punched above its weight.

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