Astronaut Chris Hadfield is putting a Canadian stamp on his upcoming mission to the international space station, packing some iconic maple syrup, recording a song on board with a Canuck musician, and snapping photos from space of Sarnia, Ont., and other parts of the country close to his heart.
He also hopes to arrange for one night when all residents in Sarnia, where he was born, will turn on their lights,so the Canadian astronaut can see it from high above.
"It will be really nice to know that people in Sarnia are leaving the lights on for me," he said. "That people are thinking of me, and I can, just with my own eyes, see evidence of my friends on Earth," Hadfield said during a telephone news conference Tuesday.
The 53-year-old trailblazer is currently in quarantine at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan preparing to make history. On Dec. 19, he is scheduled to blast off in a Soyuz capsule bound for the International Space Station, where he will take over as its first Canadian commander in March.
Now in the final days after years of preparation, Hadfield says he is taking refresher classes, exercising daily, getting rest, and preparing mentally for the mission.
Saskatchewan jerky, B.C. chocolate on board
As part of the preparations, Hadfield and his fellow crew members put a call out to Canada for suggestions on Canadian foods they could take on board.
The astronauts are allowed to bring a selection of so-called "bonus foods" beyond the regular menu, provided they have a long shelf life and are appropriate for space travel, he said.
Out of hundreds of suggestions, they chose about a dozen foods, including jerky with cranberries from northern Saskatchewan, chocolate from B.C., a bar with East Coast blueberries produced in Toronto, and, naturally, maple syrup, said Hadfield.
'When you're eating food on a repetitive cycle, to be able to grab a big tube from Canada and squirt something so sweet and flavourful on top will be really nice.'—Chris Hadfield, astronaut
"We found something iconically Canadian, but also with a space twist," he said. "We found a really good quality maple syrup, and it comes in tubes … When you're eating food on a repetitive cycle, to be able to grab a big tube from Canada and squirt something so sweet and flavourful on top will be really nice."
He is also taking special mementoes into space for his family, including specially made wedding rings for his wife, a watch for his daughter, and a tie tack and pins with the mission logo for his sons, he said.
The rings have been tightly wrapped, and will be tucked just behind his head on the Soyuz capsule, he said.
"And when I get into orbit, I'm planning ahead of time, to get that package out and take those personal items, float them around and take some pictures of them," he said. "Especially in parts of the station where the world is rolling by underneath."
Meanwhile, his family members from all over the world are flying to Kazakhstan to spend time with him and have a holiday celebration before he takes off, he said. Then, they will fly to Mission Control in Moscow to observe the takeoff, he said.
Song written about space flight
In addition to conducting Canadian experiments, including testing a miniature lab called Microflow from Quebec, he plans to make music on board the space station. Hadfield has been collaborating with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies on a song, which he hopes to premiere for Music Monday 2013 in March, an interstellar jam session.
The song is "pretty much finished," but Robertson and his band still need to lay down music tracks on Earth, he said. Hadfield, who plays guitar, will then use the sounds of the space station, instruments, and the sound of his voice while in orbit to create and add additional tracks, he said.
"It's a very catchy tune … I'll be playing it at the space station as soon as I get there," he said.
'[I hope] 50 years from now, when people are on their way to Mars... they'll be playing some of the old space songs that were written on the space station.'—Chris Hadfield, astronaut
The lyrics explore the space flight experience and the perspective from outer space, he said. The song also has a "wry humour" to it, he added.
"[I hope] 50 years from now, when people are on their way to Mars, they pull out a guitar on their spaceship and they'll be playing some of the old space songs that were written on the space station. And maybe this will be one of them," he said.
Hadfield also aims to take snapshots of Sarnia, and as many as possible of Canada "from coast to coast," he added.
Canada has come a long way from its "humble beginnings" when the space program began 50 years ago with a small satellite, he said. Hadfield expects the country to continue on its trajectory, and play a key role in space exploration for years to come.
"The fact there is Canadian hardware on Mars with the international programs that have gone there, I think it will just continue in the same direction," he said.
"As the world becomes more capable of flying in space, so goes Canada. and I think it's clever what we have done for the past 50 years. And I expect we will continue that way."