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Lee Pitts

I, quite literally, got a message this week from out of this world.

I received a tweet from Cmdr. Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut on board the International Space Station (ISS).

I was one of only a handful of Canadians, at that point, he had contacted publicly.

Imagine: from my smartphone, I was communicating with someone in outer space.

I started the back and forth. I was filling in on CBC-TV’s Here & Now as the weather presenter and saw a picture of St. John’s from the ISS that Hadfield had tweeted as he passed over on Jan. 2.

I wrote him a quick tweet letting him know I planned to use the photo during my next weather segment as the "viewer picture."

I never dreamed that moments later my smartphone would be the equivalent of a Star Trek "communicator" and I’d be in touch with someone in space.

"Thanks Lee," Hadfield tweeted. He then asked me to say hello to his brother, sister-in-law and two nephews. "They live there in Paradise."

Surreal moment from space

It was a surreal moment, standing in my kitchen, staring at my handheld device, seeing a tweet from an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. 

Space always seemed so far away. Something we’d see in TV clips during shuttle missions and launches. Otherwise, it was something we imagined while watching shows like Star Trek.

But suddenly, my own handheld device essentially performed the same task as that of Captain James T. Kirk’s communicator. It’s as close to a "beam me up" moment I’ll ever have. 

That moment became a barometer for me of where things are now.

We grew up watching shuttle launches. Today, thanks to Hadfield, the average person on Twitter can get regular updates of life in space, see how the world looks from orbit.

Hadfield is on the ISS for five months, carrying out scientific experiments, operating the Canadarm and performing other tasks with robotics.

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Chris Hadfield was the first of the newcomers to enter throught the hatch at the International Space Station in mid-December. (NASA TV)

He launched into space on Dec. 19, and takes over as commander of the station in March. But already, he’s sparked interest from the average person with his Twitter updates — and from not-so-average people, too. 

One of those is Captain Kirk himself, or the actor who played him. William Shatner also "opened hailing frequencies" with Hadfield on board the ISS.

"Are you tweeting from space?" Shatner asked in a message on Twitter.

"Yes, Standard Orbit, Captain," Hadfield responded. "And we're detecting signs of life on the surface."

Hadfield later wrote on Twitter that he regretted wearing a red shirt while chatting with Shatner. For the non-Trekkies, the ensign in the red shirt on Star Trek usually dies.

Hadfield is accessible, has a sense of humour, is an apparent Trekkie, and he’s doing it all from space.

His star must now be rising even more. American network television is covering his interaction with Shatner from space. His Twitter account must have exploded. He’s become a sensation. Even Peter Mansbridge joked that Hadfield is gaining more Twitter followers than Justin Bieber. 

If one of Hadfield’s experiments is to revitalize public interest in the Canadian and NASA space programs, it seems he’s succeeding. 

My little interaction from space is more than just a tweet. It’s what that tweet represents — how technology has advanced, and how accessible we’ve all become. 

And before I forget, hello to "Phil, wife Teresa, hockey-playing boys Taylor & Andrew" from Chris. He asked me to pass it along. 

Space, the final frontier, suddenly feels a lot closer.

For me, a message from space landed, literally, in the palm of my hand.