Performing From Space, Canada's Low-Orbit Star

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OTTAWA -- As far as YouTube hits go, Canada's contribution has not yet approached the popularity of South Korea's "Gangnam Style." And perhaps because of the limitations of weightlessness, the music video lacked any dance moves at all.

But the video, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" that Chris Hadfield produced in the International Space Station as his five-month command neared an end, may have cemented his reputation as the world's best-known singing astronaut, not to mention Canada's newest celebrity.

Mr. Hadfield, 53, is an unlikely star. But his acoustic guitar, a series of televised publicity stunts, a steady stream of online photo postings and his hearty appetite for Twitter messages from space enabled him to overcome, at least in Canada, the yawning indifference that often meets space travel.

As if a Canadian had just landed on Mars, broadcasters here provided live updates on Monday night when a Russian Soyuz capsule carrying Mr. Hadfield, the American Tom Marshburn and the Russian Roman Romanenko landed in Kazakhstan. Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Mr. Hadfield "our very own space pioneer," and the Canadian news media prominently noted a BBC online story declaring that Mr. Hadfield "has probably become the most famous astronaut since the days of Neil Armstrong and Yuri Gagarin."

Back on Earth but not yet back in Canada, Mr. Hadfield held a televised news conference on Thursday from Houston, where he will be readjusting to gravity until next month. Asked about his fame, he said, "I hope I can just lead a normal life after this."

Mr. Hadfield's most heavily publicized achievements from space did not appear off-the-charts from a scientific point of view. He issued Twitter postings like mad. He dropped a puck from space for the Toronto Maple Leafs' home opener against the Buffalo Sabres. He also unveiled a new Canadian five-dollar bill and led thousands of schoolchildren in a singalong.

But Will Straw, the director of the Institute for the Study of Canada at McGill University in Montreal, said that what Mr. Hadfield did or did not achieve is beside the point. He is an astronaut from Canada, more than enough to ensure his fame here.

"Canadians are always thrilled if anybody in the world notices another Canadian," Mr. Straw said. "It's like the old joke about how many Canadians it takes to screw in a light bulb: 10, one to do the work and nine to point at him and say, 'He's Canadian.' "

Rick Mercer, a Canadian satirist, noted that Mr. Hadfield was not exactly an overnight success, having participated in two space shuttle missions.

The difference with this trip, Mr. Mercer said, was Mr. Hadfield's digital accessibility. When Canadians sent him requests for space photos of their hometowns through Twitter or e-mail, he aimed his camera in their direction. He also participated in a sketch for Mr. Mercer's mock news television program, "The Rick Mercer Report," from the Space Station.

"People felt that they were interacting with a guy in space, not just turning on a television," Mr. Mercer said. "He's a bit goofy, like a normal Canadian. We kind of see ourselves in him."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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