As Chris Hadfield tests out new technologies aboard the International Space Station, he’s also breaking new ground through his links to Earth through social media.
The Canadian astronaut says being aboard the ISS on a five-month mission is "way too good an experience to keep it to myself."
Hadfield has found time to share his photos and observations on Twitter and Facebook. He’s tweeted with William Shatner, dropped the puck for the Leafs home opener and will soon be doing a musical performance from space with children across Canada.
"It’s something I think is really important to share," Hadfield said in an interview with CBC’s Q cultural affairs show from the I.S.S.
"Ever since my first space flight 17 years ago, I’ve been trying to describe to people just how incredible it is to see our world this way and what it means to us as a species to start leaving earth — and now I have the time."
Hadfield said life aboard the space station is busy — he’s doing experiments with his American and Russian colleagues and communicating with mission control centres around the world, with a goal to learn more about the effects of space on the human body and how new technologies can further space flight.
But communicating via Twitter with people on earth has been "heartwarming," he said.
"This is a magnificent human experience. This is something, not only personally amazing to be part of, but it is a new thing within the human experience, and it’s way too good an experience to keep it to myself."
Hadfield says he doesn’t get time to read every tweet, but he is encouraged to learn about schools around the world following his progress and using his photos in geography and language classes.
"People are stopping and looking up to see something that people did go overhead, and they’re writing me about it," he said. "It’s that ability now, because of technology, to directly connect to let people share in the experience as it happens that makes it even richer …."
Hadfield says it’s important to him to give young Canadians a sense of the great possibilities of space travel.
That’s one reason for his involvement in a special project with the Coalition for Music Education and CBC Music. Together, with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies, he's been writing a song that will be performed with children across Canada as part of Music Monday — the first Monday of May.
The song I.S.S.: Is Somebody Singing, with music by Robertson and lyrics by Robertson and Hadfield, is an attempt to capture the emotions he has as he watches the earth from the space station.
"The song does a nice job about talking about the wonder of it and some of the science of it, but also thinking about what it means psychologically to be here and what it’s going to mean in future for people who are living away from Earth and using our inventions to increase our capability to understand the universe," Hadfield said.
"There’s all this stuff going on," Hadfield said of life aboard the I.S.S.
"It’s only when you float over to the window and pause for a second and look at the huge, impermeable permanence and beauty of the world that’s underneath you, the greatly assuring wonder of it, that it makes you thoughtful to combine the high-paced action that we’re doing on board with this magnificent planet that’s just outside the window."
The premiere of I.S.S.: Is Somebody Singing on May 8 will be capture on CBC’s Q and CBC Music.