What's the next frontier for Chris Hadfield?
Wants to keep talking up space, family and friends say
If Chris Hadfield had his way, he'd still be floating in space and living out the dream that began when he watched Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon nearly 44 years ago.
Instead, the southern Ontario farmboy-turned-astronaut was dragged out of a tiny Soyuz capsule in Kazakhstan on Monday night and flown to Houston for an intensive round of rehab at NASA's Johnson Space Center, to return his 53-year-old body to pre-flight form.
Arguably the most famous astronaut on the planet at the moment — largely because of the everyman way he connected life on the International Space Station with life on Earth — Hadfield's future would seem bright.
But what is that future — beyond a promised appearance as parade marshal at the Calgary Stampede in July?
Media speculation has touched on everything from politics to the vacant permanent post at the helm of the Canadian Space Agency.
Hadfield hasn't publicly addressed the question of his future in a significant way, although he is scheduled to participate in a media conference from Houston on Thursday.
Hadfield's son, Evan, says his father would stay in space if he had his druthers.
"He wouldn't come back if we let him," Evan said in an interview from Germany, where he served as his father's social media manager. "It's his dream."
No scheduled spaceflights
But opportunities to fly aren't as commonplace anymore. There are no spaceflights scheduled for Canadian astronauts at the moment, and a Canadian Space Agency official has suggested that it is unlikely another Canadian will return to the ISS before 2016.
Hadfield's wife, Helene, says she hasn't thought much beyond her husband's return, other than making sure he's healthy and that his rehab goes well.
"Right now, he's a little bit of a giant lab rat," she said in an interview with CBC News Network on Tuesday. "That's what I call him because they will be doing his medical re-adaptation studies."
Mission debriefings are also in the works with the CSA, NASA and the Russian space agency.
"That's all we're thinking about," Helene said. "One thing at a time, right?"
Jeremy Hansen, who was selected as a Canadian astronaut in 2009 and served as a crew support astronaut for Hadfield's recent mission, says that Hadfield will be consumed for the next month with the medical testing, rehabilitation and debriefing.
"Then after that I think what we'll see is more of Chris like we've seen on station, where he'll be sharing, finding interesting ways to share his experience, and his perspective," Hansen said in an interview Tuesday from Houston.
Hansen isn't aware of any long-term CSA plans for Hadfield. But he says the agency plans to "leverage the opportunity to help teachers across the country." Other outreach is also planned.
"We need to bring this experience home," Hansen said."You really miss out on one of the huge benefits of space exploration if you don't share it … with humanity."
Hansen says the largest contribution space exploration makes is the perspective that it gives us, something that he considers "shone through" with Hadfield's five months on the ISS.
"He really taught us that we live on 'spaceship Earth.' We only have one of them and it's the only one we have the technology to live on right now, and we have to take care of it and we have to take care of the people on it."
That's a theme likely to echo through what Hansen acknowledges will likely be a "pretty hectic PR schedule" for Hadfield in the months ahead.
Beyond that, Hansen says that Hadfield has "given everything of himself from my perspective that he could possibly give and I think people really need to give him some time to figure out where he sees himself being most useful to society and see what he wants to do.
"If we didn't respect his wishes, then that just wouldn't seem right. I wish I could give you more specifics, but I don't think they're there yet."
One little sliver of the future is clear, however. Hadfield will continue his presence on Twitter, where he has gathered more than 930,000 followers, up from 20,000 when he blasted off from Kazakhstan on Dec. 19, 2012.
Making a connection
"He was on Twitter before he went to space, and he'll be on it afterwards," his son Evan said.
"It's going to be so much greater when he comes home and people can interact with him face to face now that they know what he's achieved and what it’s possible to achieve.
"He can actually inspire people one on one."
As Evan sees it, social media is a substitute for that one-on-one communcation, when the direct physical connection is not possible.
"On Earth," says Evan, his father would like "to combine the two as best as possible. Interaction is the whole name of the game."
Other Canadian astronauts have found post-spaceflight futures inside and outside the space community.
Bob Thirsk, the only other Canadian to have had a long-duration mission on the ISS, continued with the Canadian Space Agency after that 2009 spaceflight until he resigned as an astronaut last year. He is now vice-president of public, government and institute affairs at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in Ottawa.
Two other astronauts — Marc Garneau and Steve MacLean — have also taken turns at the helm of the Canadian Space Agency.
Garneau, Canada's first astronaut, is now a Liberal MP. MacLean announced earlier this year that he was leaving the CSA for a post in a new venture founded by Mike Lazaridis, former co-founder and CEO of Research In Motion (now BlackBerry).
Julie Payette, who was part of shuttle missions to the ISS in 1999 and 2009 and served as the Quebec government's scientific envoy to Washington, D.C., becomes chief operating officer of the Montreal Science Centre and vice-president of the Canada Lands Co. in mid-July.
"In today's world of fast-paced innovation, unparalleled medical advances and instant communication, science and technology have become part of our everyday life," Payette said in a statement last week. "Science is fun and science is fundamental."
The CSA is working under an interim head at the moment, but published reports suggest Hadfield has little interest in the permanent post and the politics that would be involved in leading the agency.
Hadfield regarded his time on the space station as the pinnacle of his career, and his wife watched his return with mixed emotions: "terrific and wonderful, and a little bittersweet."
"He's so naturally loving space that I wonder how he'll like being back on Earth, although he likes everything, so I think he’ll be fine."
Hadfield was, she hastened to add, also looking forward to a good shower.
Hadfield got that and seemed relieved that some things on Earth hadn't changed while he was away.
"Forgot to mention: first long, hot shower since December," he tweeted Tuesday afternoon. "That felt so good! Step 1 of Return to Earth complete."
Step 2 and beyond remain the next frontier.