After Hadfield, who's the next Canadian in space?

bobmcdonald-190.jpgBy Bob McDonald, Quirks & Quarks

Canada's singing astronaut announced his retirement this week, leaving Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques to fill his space boots. But there is no date set for when the next Canadian will fly in space.

Chris Hadfield, thinner but stronger - with less calcium in his bones and a slightly weaker heart after his five-month stay on the International Space Station - has had enough of  astronaut life in Houston, Texas.  He announced his retirement from the Canadian Space Agency and plans to move his family back to Canada; take some time to reflect on his career as a spaceman; write some books; and almost certainly be in high demand on the speaking circuit.

That leaves just the two new rookie Canadian astronauts still on the roster for a flight up to the International Space Station. 

But while Jeremy and David are in training in Houston, they have no idea when they will have a chance to leave the Earth.

The only ride to space at the moment is aboard the Russian Soyuz, which is a three-seater - compared to the seven seats that used to be available on the now-retired space shuttles - and one of those seats is always a Russian cosmonaut. That means there are far fewer opportunities for rides to orbit until a replacement for the space shuttles comes online.

NASA is building a new Orion Space Capsule, which will hold up to seven astronauts and be carried to space atop a new Space Launch System. It might make its first flight in 2017.

Also in the works is the privately built Dragon Capsule, which has already made two successful cargo trips to the Space Station and may be ready to take astronauts before Orion.

This is not the first time there has been a hiatus in the space program.  After the final moon mission, Apollo 17 in 1972, Americans did not return to space for almost a decade, while the space shuttles were being built. 

There were also delays after the two shuttle accidents, Challenger and Columbia, where the fleet was grounded so changes could be made to the spacecraft and NASA management.

Waiting for years to get to space may seem like a long time, but all astronauts are used to that. Chris Hadfield waited three years for his first flight after being selected as an astronaut, six years for his second flight and 11 years for his third.

He didn't mind the wait and, obviously, his patience paid off.

So, even though budgets continue to be slashed at the Canadian Space Agency, and Canadian astronauts may not get to the ISS for the foreseeable future, Canada will still have a presence in space in the near future. There's the upcoming launch of Cassiope to study space weather, the Japanese Astro-H mission to capture x-rays from space, and we will be part of the next giant space telescope, the James Webb, which will replace the Hubble Space Telescope.

So, while it may be quiet for a while, and a few years before we see another Canadian flying like Peter Pan on the Space Station, Canada's 50-year legacy in space will continue.