Twenty years ago, sometime between 1992 and 1994 (which, according to the Internet was the only years it ran), my parents sent me off across the country to Ontario to attend the Algonquin Space Camp. I flew all the way to Toronto and back on my own, and spent a week in the middle of a provincial park under the shadow of a giant radio telescope, where I learned about space, science, and all kinds of interesting things.
It was twenty years ago, but I have a few very distinct memories of that camp. I remember my roommate burning her hand and arm on her curling iron. I remember how tired I was on the bus-ride to the park from Pearson Airport. I remember that my model rocket, which I kept for years, flew the straightest and highest of all my fellow campers (yes, even then I was all about attention to detail). I remember watching in awe as the telescope ponderously moved, and when they lit it up for us at night. And I remember when they turned off all the lights, and I saw for the first time, clearly and amazingly, the Milky Way.
Along the way, my dreams of space and science faded, but the interest remains. Science fiction is my go-to genre for books, the spacier the better, and when I did creative writing much of it was the same. I’ll catch articles in the paper about a manned mission to Mars, or the discovery of a planet orbiting a distant star, and wonder at how far we’ve come. And then of course, there’s Commander Hadfield.
Even as I type this, his five-month stint on the International Space Station is coming to a close, the Soyuz capsule he and two others are riding back to Earth beginning to descend through atmosphere for a rough landing in (hopefully) Kazakhstan within the hour. Last night, he posted a video, a cover of Bowie’s Space Oddity, which I watched this morning, and oh, how powerful it is.
Commander Hadfield’s video (I do hope you watch it) reaches out. You can see it in his eyes. He’s spoken of seeing the places he’s photographed, is looking forward to real coffee again, will be the Marshall at the Stampede Parade (an invitation extended and accepted on Twitter, of all places), but you can see the regret, the wondering where time has gone. For a man who always dreamed of being an astronaut, five months on the ISS and three as its captain must seem like the pinnacle of a life. But the Commander has done so much more, will be so much more once his Soyuz touches down. By sharing his experiences with us, interacting with us through social media, he has become an inspiration.
The last five months of following Commander Hadfield on Twitter, seeing his beautiful photographs, reading his often poignant, pithy, and invariably interesting observations about the world, wondering at all the interesting little tidbits about life in space, like wearing clothes until they’re just too dirty to wear anymore because water is such a precious commodity, has been thrilling. Being a spectator to this man, who became what once I considered for myself, has made me wonder a bit about the road not taken, but more than that, has opened me up to the realm of the possible. “Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become,” was part of his advice to a young person interested in becoming an astronaut, but it applies to each and every one of us. Where do we want to go? Who do we want to be? Let’s make every decision, every moment, count as a step towards that. Then our time is not wasted.
I may not want to be an astronaut anymore. I may not dream about the moon base or Mars as home. But this morning, I thought the perfect welcome-back present for this man would be a pair of hand-knit socks, and wished that I’d thought of that two months ago. I started wondering if any of the indy dyers had done a Commander Hadfield-inspired colourway, or if any of the designers had come up with a pair of socks, and if maybe this is the time I should try my hand at designing something. I wondered if the Commander or the CSA will be putting out a book of his photographs, which I will buy as soon as it comes out, plus copies for all of my family. And I wondered if, someday, if I happened to meet the man and were able to present him with a pair of socks, if he would understand that it’s because for him it was space, and for me, it’s space and fibre.
The Soyuz is down. Welcome back, Commander, and thank you for everything.