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Godspeed Chris Hadfield

Former Royal Canadian Air Cadet gliding student delivers message to Vintage Wings of Canada members and volunteers on eve of launch en route to Command of the International Space Station.
Title image: Photoshop-manipulated photo from NASA/Victor Zelentsov

On the afternoon of 19 December 2012, Chris Hadfield, member of the Board of Directors of Vintage Wings of Canada and one of its senior Squadron Leader Fern Villeneuve Hawk One F-86 Sabre pilots, will lift off the vast, sparse and windswept Kazakh steppe, bound for a half-year long journey of discovery aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Despite a gruelling schedule of preparations for the launch, Hadfield took the time to deliver a short message to his fellow Vintage Wingers, sharing his excitement and speaking with humility to the continuum that is aviation history – from the Montgolfier brothers to the Wright brothers to space exploration. His short message speaks to the important work we are doing at Vintage Wings and inspires us all to reach even higher, following his example.

In Baikonur, Chris Hadfield shows us his true colours, unzipping his Soyuz jacket to reveal that he was wearing his Vintage Wings of Canada orange polo shirt. In the background we see a monument to the Russian Soyuz rocket program. In the far distance, the bleak plains of Kazakhstan stretch to the horizon and far, far beyond.
In the opening image of this story (previous image), we see the Hadfield mission patch, which was designed in the form of a guitar pick. Hadfield, as well as most of his family, is a gifted singer, musician, and songwriter. For a full description of the meaning behind his mission patch, click here. Screen capture from CSA video

To hear Chris' inspiring message to the men and women of Vintage Wings of Canada, click here and open the Vintage Wings of Canada.wmv link or download the mp4 file here.

To learn more about Chris' historic voyage mission as Commander of the ISS, click here.

The Men and their Machines

In December 2012, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Astronaut Chris Hadfield (left), Cosmonaut Roman Romanenko (centre), and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn will put their knowledge and skills to the test when they take their seats on a Soyuz TMA-M for Expedition 34/35. Photo: NASA/Victor Zelentsov. Since 1967, cosmonauts and astronauts have been strapping themselves into the Soyuz spacecraft, blasting off into the atmosphere aloft 102 tons of liquid nitrogen thrust. As the Soyuz rocket hurtles towards space it's a smooth ride – that is until one rocket stage is shed and the next one kicks in, yo-yoing its occupants back and forth. On their return from space the crew members are packed into the tiny quarters of the Soyuz capsule, which re-enters the Earth's atmosphere in a ball of flame and smoke. Soon after the release of its parachute, the Soyuz hits the barren steppes of Kazakhstan with a heavy thud, capsule scorched but crew intact.

Though at times a rough ride, the Soyuz is recognized as Russia's most reliable and long-serving spacecraft. In fact, it is so entrusted that it is currently the only vehicle to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), and acts as the Station's lifeboat should any emergency arise. To fly on a Soyuz requires intensive training; for Canadian astronauts, this means not only learning technical aspects but also familiarizing themselves with the Russian language and culture. Photo: NASA/Victor Zelentsov

Along with the United States, Russia, Europe and Japan, Canada is a partner in the International Space Station (ISS), a unique, orbiting research laboratory. Since the first module of the Station was launched in 1998, the Station has circled the globe 16 times per day at 28,000 km/h at an altitude of about 370 km, covering a distance equivalent to the Moon and back daily. Once complete, the Station will be as long as a Canadian football field, and will have as much living space as a five-bedroom house. Canada's contribution to the ISS is the Mobile Servicing System (MSS) – a sophisticated robotics suite that assembled the Station in space, module by module. Developed for the Canadian Space Agency by MDA of Brampton, Ontario, the MSS is comprised of: the Canadarm2, a 17-metre long robotic arm; Dextre, the Station's two-armed robotic "handyman"; and the Mobile Base, a moveable work platform and storage facility. Canada's investment gives Canadian scientists access to the ISS to conduct research for the benefit of Canadians. Photo and info: CSA

Hadfield writes from the Baikonur Cosmodrome

Earlier this week, Hadfield shared his family's traditional Christmas greeting with his and his family's many friends around the world, bringing us up to date on the Hadfield diaspora. Here, from Chris' end-of-year summation, is an excerpt that speaks to the final preparations for his coming journey, something he has planned for since he was a boy:

“After a month in-country I left Russia a week ago, and am now holed-up in one of the most upscale prisons on the planet. The Baikonur Cosmodrome quarantine facility.

It’s an interesting place. Yuri Gagarin lived here under similar circumstances, and a tree he planted about 51 years ago is thriving. It has been joined by a whole row of those that have followed him. Beyond the compound, trees are scarce. The Syr Darya river flows darkly, rippled by the constant wind of the Kazakh Steppe, surrounded by the low brown hills of this near-desert. Camels and cattle wander in and out of the holes in the fence, and stray dogs howl at the approach of winter. The sky is bright-blue clear, and the air is fresh and … cold.

The food is great. Roscosmos cleverly hired what have to be the 5 finalists in the
Kazakhstan’s Next Top Model contest, and they beautifully feed us 3 feasts a day. Breakfast is oatmeal, yogurt, tvorog, omelette with red caviar, persimmons and honey, nuts and compote, with coffee, tea or chicory. Lunch and dinner are a varied banquet of homemade soup, grilled fish, cutlets, pelmeni or manti, fresh veg and made-to-order dessert. We asked for brownies, they made towering ones with nuts and chocolate sauce. Today we had panna cotta in berry sauce. Space travel and quarantine may have their physical hardships, but diet is not one of them.

The days are full. I’ve been packing the small shaving kit of personal items I’m allowed to take in the Soyuz, carefully wrapping pendants and medals and Kristin’s watch [Chris' daughter]. I exercise, albeit very carefully as one of our managers already blew out his Achilles tendon playing indoor badminton and had to go home. I fly practice rendezvous and dockings on a portable Soyuz simulator, and study the Soyuz and Station checklists with crew and our chief instructors. We all sign an endless stack of crew photos – by launch we should have enough for each citizen of Russia, and perhaps China. And evenings we play guitar and sip single malt and sing – a purposeful group of friends from all over the world.

My quarantine room is lovely and sterile, unsettlingly reminiscent of Dave’s final lodgings in 2001 A Space Odyssey. The Kazakh maid washes my clothes seemingly faster than I can wear them. The floor and walls get wiped daily with bleach to ward off any potential unhealthiness. And the bed is hard, a wry reminder of where I’ll be sleeping for the next 5 months.

Speaking of which, launch is in 5 days.

We’ll eat light liquids for a day prior and give ourselves 2, count’em, 2 enemas, to be squeaky clean to match the limited facilities during the 2-day Soyuz transit to Station. Our Russian flight doctor will wipe our whole bodies down with rubbing alcohol to ensure no fungi are clinging to us as we leave the planet. We’ll have a quiet ceremonial moment with spouses and top management, get doused in a blessing by a Russian Orthodox priest, and then step out into the throngs of guests and locals waving us a quarantine goodbye. Onto the bus, and out to the launch pad suit-up building.

A team of suit specialists will spring into action as we don diapers, long johns with black socks (it’s a fashion statement), and slip into our Sokhol pressure suits. We actually climb in through the front and poke arms, legs and head up into their matching holes, like a turtle out of his shell. There’s a heart monitor and comm cap to check, and then the whole ensemble gets plugged in and blown up like a balloon to check for leaks. A quick chat with guests and management through a sterile glass wall, and it’s time to go – we walk outside, take the salute at the traditional spot, and board the bus that goes to the rocket ship.

Enroute we’ll stop, zip outside for a sec and take a last-minute leak on the tire. Yuri Gagarin did it for good reason, and so do we – a tradition with purpose.

At the launch pad top management will jockey for position to see who can hold which astronaut’s arm to help then to the pad, and then the Chief of the rocket company will give us a ceremonial kick in the pants as we climb the ladder. Turn, wave, a short elevator ride to the top of the rocket, climb in one by one, strap ourselves into the seat, and … the adventure truly begins.”

Brother Dave journeys to Baikonur to Witness Brother's Launch

At the beginning of manned flight, we had the Montgolfier brothers and the Wright brothers. At this point in Canada's aviation history, it is one of the Hadfield Brothers (Dave, Chris and Phil) who is standing at the edge of history and indeed the universe. Like so many of Canada's greatest leaders, Dave and Chris Hadfield are products of Canada's finest leadership development program – the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. No other youth program offers such a sublime blend – a mix of discipline, leadership training and gliding and powered flight training, that carrot-on-the-stick which inspires these young leaders to achieve greatness and to see the benefits of hard work and holding onto a dream. This coming year, Vintage Wings of Canada and Raytheon Canada will cross the country with the Yellow Wings Second World War trainers, telling the stories of Canada's heroes, and offering reward vintage aircraft rides to deserving Air Cadets at their summer gliding and leadership schools. Raytheon's sponsorship of the 2013 Yellow Wings Program means that Canada's finest young people from coast to coast will be inspired by the stories of our great leaders from the Second World War as well as be exposed to the potential of careers in engineering, aerospace and science.

While brother Chris orbits high above through the early summer months, Dave Hadfield will be talking Canada's next generation of leaders aloft in both the Wing Commander James Francis “Stocky” Edwards P-40 Kittyhawk and the Flight Lieutenant Bill McRae Tiger Moth. Between the two aviators, there will be thousands of Canada's future leaders who will be able to trace their path of accomplishment right back to 2013, when the Hadfield brothers ruled the sky and the space above. It's time to stop lamenting the ambitions of youth of today and put your money behind a program that reaches the very best of our youth with a positive message of achievement through hard work and discipline. To help support this, Vintage Wings and Raytheon's most important program of inspiration to date, you can make a tax-deductable donation now by emailing the Raytheon–Yellow Wings Team Lead, Todd Lemieux here. The theme of the ambitious program is: “On the Wings of History go the Leaders of Tomorrow." Chris Hadfield's history-making space adventure will no doubt put wings under many a young person's dream this coming summer.

Young air cadet Sergeant Christopher Hadfield beams with pride at the family home, with his older brother Warrant Officer David Hadfield, both of 820 Squadron of Malton, Ontario. Today, 820 Squadron is known as 820 Chris Hadfield Squadron. Photo via Dave Hadfield

On his way today, Sunday, 16 December, to Baikonur to watch, with family members, the launch of Hadfield's Soyuz, brother Dave wrote down a few thoughts upon leaving Moscow:

“We look out through the boarding lounge window at our Tupolev 154. Frost lies thick and white over every square inch of the vintage 3-engined jet. It's still long before dawn at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, pitch dark and 20 below Celsius. We are about to board, on this the last leg of our journey to Kazakhstan. For my brother Chris, the journey started 20 years ago.

For us, the families and friends of Tom Marshburn and Chris Hadfield, there is an air of celebration. We are starting to know each other. Old friends have shaken hands, and new faces are becoming new friends. Last night there was a reception at the Canadian Embassy; plush carpet, wine and hors d'oeuvres and speeches – happily not too long. On this morning's bus ride, conversation flowed easily, despite the 05:30 departure.

For Chris the real work is just beginning. The long years of tedious study are over. The endless prep and the numberless briefings are drawing to a close. He has 6 months of intense, steady work in front of him – not to mention a rocket to ride in order to get to the job site – but it's finally the real thing. He can hardly believe it's about to actually happen.

The machine pushes back from the gate. We get a de-icing spray, taxi out and depart. My wife Robin and I view the Russian sunrise as the chartered Tupolev jet climbs southeast. It's an antiquated old thing. There are no seat belt signs. It smells of cigarettes (all Russia smells of cigarettes). The toilet seat is made of wood.

We sleep away some of the jet lag. A meal comes, and is surprisingly good. We gaze outside as the land flattens out and turns dusty brown. In time the nose pitches over and we start to descend. We have our first sight of the Kazakhstan steppes. Strangely, they look like Southern Alberta – familiar to an old Prairie pilot like myself. But the familiarity ends when we touch down – along the airport fence we see a herd of camels, looking shaggy and scruffy in the thin winter sunlight. And parked near the ramp are a pair of AN-2 biplanes, still in working livery.

We hear from Helene, Chris' wife, that he is fit and well. As we wait for endless customs processing in the Arrivals room, I meet with a NASA doctor. I pass him a piece of paper on which I've recorded my body temperature over the last 4 days. He asks a few questions and signs my release. I'm now cleared medically to meet with Chris, to enter Quarantine, although the Russian doctors are quite restrictive and it may not happen. Of course I would find that enormously disappointing, a gigantic letdown, but we all want Chris to stay in top shape.

And he IS in top shape. He DEFINES top shape. He has been subjected to the most rigorous peer-review process on Planet Earth. Both the Russians and the Americans have asked him to take Command of the Space Station – the signature piece of technology of the human race. This is only the second time the Russians and Americans have EVER let someone other than a Russian or an American be in Command. This isn't something you earn on upgrade points. Canada is a tiny player financially. In no way is this a political appointment. Chris has been a valued player for 20 years, and was Director of Space Station Operations for five. He is a known quantity. They picked him.

Tomorrow, we will get up long before dawn once more. The rocket will arrive via its custom rail car. We are going to see it roll up, then get placed in its launch-silo, pointed up into the heavens. Jeremy Hansen, Canadian Astronaut, ex-Air Cadet, and member of Vintage Wings of Canada, is our Coordinator. He advises us to wear every single item of clothing we brought. We will be standing outside at -25C for three hours in the Kazakhstan steppe wind. But what Canadian family member hasn't risked frostbite at an outdoor hockey rink to see a loved one score an overtime goal? We'll be all right. Robin and I brought our Sorels
[Canadian-made winter boots- Ed]!

Chris is at centre ice. The puck is about to drop....

Godspeed Chris Hadfield. With you go the hearts of 30 million Canadians. Thank you for sharing this accomplishment with us at Vintage Wings of Canada
. Photo: NASA/Victor Zelentsov

The complete Warbird U Calendar for 2012
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