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Hadfield's wonderful adventure

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Chris Hadfield

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Chris Hadfield

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has single-handedly reinvigorated the interest of Canadians and people around the world in the romance and importance of space exploration.

It was no space oddity, either. He did it through tweets, video, photographs and song, but mostly through the force of his engaging, down-to-earth personality. Space, he taught us, is a pretty cool place and there is a lot we can learn out there about ourselves and our planet.

With nearly one million followers in the twittersphere and some 22 million views of the videos he produced on the International Space Station, Mr. Hadfield is undoubtedly the best-known Canadian in the world today.

His impact comes at a critical time for Canadian space research, which has been described as being at a crossroads because the federal government has been trimming the budgets of the Canadian Space Agency over the last decade.

The agency's mandate is to promote research and to ensure that space science and technology "provide social and economic benefits" for Canadians, but a review led by former cabinet minister David Emerson (a Liberal turned Conservative) has warned the country is losing ground against other countries that recognize the value of aerospace research.

Many Canadians may not realize Canada has been in the forefront of space research for 50 years. Canada's first satellite, the Alouette 1, was launched in 1962, making Canada the third country, after the Soviet Union and the United States, to build its own satellites.

Canadian technology was used on the American shuttle program, the International Space Station and on the Mars rover that is looking for signs of life on the red planet.

The spinoff is a $3.5-billion space industry that employs 8,000 people in Canada.

Space research has sometimes been written off as an unnecessary luxury that produces few real benefits, but the ability to reach beyond the Earth has actually revolutionized communications, national defence, weather forecasting, crop surveillance, robotics and many other fields.

A large country like Canada cannot afford to fall behind in such a critical field.

Today, according to the Emerson report, even the delivery of education and health services, emergency response, border surveillance and the operation of drones depend on technologies developed in the pursuit of space exploration.

The report says Ottawa should boost spending, while setting priorities for research.

Some critics have suggested too much space research is spent on impractical initiatives, such as a manned voyage to Mars, but who's to say what new technological revolution would emerge from such an endeavour?

Ultimately, it's up to research directors to discern the difference between science fiction and practical results.

The International Research Station, too, had largely fallen from public view until Mr. Hadfield arrived. The station has been occupied for nearly 15 years, but its work went largely unnoticed.

Today, there's a much wider understanding of its research on the impact of space on human health, as well as physics, life sciences and other fields.

Mr. Hadfield's five months of orbiting the Earth won't go down in history with the moon landing or other seminal moments in space exploration, but he may be remembered as the first astronaut who made it fun.

A natural entertainer, he educated us on the problems of weightlessness, eating and drinking in space, sleeping, exercising and living and dozens of other details.

We followed his every move like a reality TV show and in the process he captured the attention of prime ministers, monarchs and even that greatest of space travellers, Capt. James T. Kirk.

Live long and prosper, Mr. Hadfield.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2013 A8

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