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Astronaut Chris Hadfield speaks about his new mission.

Col. Chris Hadfield will become the first Canadian astronaut to command the International Space Station.

Hadfield will launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft late in 2012, Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, told a news conference Thursday in Longueuil, Que. The exact date of the launch has not been set, but it will likely be in either late November or early December.

In March 2013, Hadfield will take command for the second half of the six-month mission, overseeing the work of five other astronauts.

"To be trusted on their lives … is a tremendous honour that all of us share," he said, calling the opportunity extremely challenging, exciting and rewarding.

Previous missions

Veteran test pilot Hadfield's first mission in space was in 1995, when he became the only Canadian astronaut to board the Russian space station Mir.

On his second mission, in 2001, he attached Canadarm 2 to the International Space Station (ISS) during the first-ever spacewalk by a Canadian.

Hadfield served as NASA's chief of ISS operations from 2006 to 2008.

In 2009, he trained as a backup for Robert Thirsk as Thirsk prepared for a long-duration stay aboard the station.

It will be his third journey into space.

The Ontario native, who was born in Sarnia and raised in Milton, will co-pilot the Soyuz rocket en route to the space station.

There, Hadfield, NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn Russian and cosmonaut Roman Romanenko will join NASA astronaut Kevin Ford and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin, who are launching in October 2012, NASA said in a news release.

Hadfield will spend his first four months at the station working as its flight engineer, performing scientific experiments, robotics tasks and technology demonstrations. He may also be asked to undertake a spacewalk.

As commander, he will be responsible for the safety of the crew, ongoing operations, maintenance and equipment of the space station, and will oversee scientific experiments. He may also operate the robotic Canadarm2 to perform assembly and maintenance tasks or help berth spacecraft to the station.

He is scheduled to return to Earth in a Soyuz spacecraft in June 2013.

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Chris Hadfield places his hand among those of two other astronauts aboard the Soyuz TMA-15 spacecraft. The three formed the backup team for Expedition 20/21, which launched in May 2009. ((NASA/Victor Zelentsov))

Over the next two years, Hadfield will undergo rigorous training in Canada, the U.S., Japan, Russia and Europe.

The crew of Hadfield's mission will also be the backup crew for the June 2012 mission to the space station.

Goodyear said the selection of a Canadian to command the space station "reflects the achievements of our space exploration program and the renowned quality of our Canadian Astronaut Corps."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it was "a great honour, not just for [Hadfield] but for the entire country.