Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nothing like a good rumour to stir a little interest and get people talking around the water cooler. This time, one of Vintage Wing's very own board members and our most highly publicized Hawk One Sabre pilot is the subject of the burning question posed by Tom Spears of the Ottawa Citizen. Will Chris Hadfield take command of the International Space Station in 2013, or not?

Here's is the editorial as it appears in today's (22 July) Ottawa Citizen, the newspaper you love to hate and hate to love!

Hadfield's time -- and Canada's
By Tom Spears.

Could a Canadian take command of the most complex human outpost ever built -- the International Space Station?

The space community is buzzing with word that Canadian Chris Hadfield, a veteran astronaut, will command the $100-billion orbiting science station for several months in early 2013.

Since the first phase of the station was launched in the 1990s, only Americans and Russians have commanded it. Canadian Bob Thirsk served for six months last year as flight engineer.

Neither NASA nor the Canadian Space Agency has publicly mentioned the possible posting, though a NASA insider and some space industry websites identify Hadfield as the tentative commander of Expedition 35 -- the 35th team of astronauts aboard. A tentative posting may change, of course, but for now he's still the guy pencilled in.

Hadfield's appointment would make sense in many ways:

- He is a veteran of two space flights and three space walks spent building the space station. He visited Russia's Mir in the 1990s.

- He recently commanded a NASA crew that lived and trained for two weeks underwater, off the Florida Keys. Commanding the NEEMO exercise is sometimes a step toward a space flight.

- He already qualified to serve as flight engineer on the Russian Soyuz launch vehicle, trained as backup for Thirsk's mission, and has a master's degree in aviation science.

- Between flights, Hadfield served as NASA's chief capcom -- the only person at Mission Control who speaks to a crew in space. The capcom (it's short for capsule communicator) is always an astronaut, and Hadfield filled the role for 25 shuttle missions.

It would be a major step for a Canadian to take command of the station. NASA and the Russians have long welcomed astronauts from other nations, but have not often given them management positions. One exception to this was Canadian astronaut Dave Williams, a medical doctor who served as head of life sciences for NASA. Hadfield was the first non-American to serve as chief capcom. The former CF-18 pilot began his career training to intercept Soviet aircraft over northern Canada.

So it's a great rumour. But is it true?

Space geek websites are funny things. You find them at sites like and the oddly named They are run by people with minds like engineers: they love details of every description, and want to be able to track each satellite as it passes over their homes. They also get to know NASA insiders.

In fact, it was a NASA person who steered me to a German space site that he considers authoritative,

The site posted what it claims is a NASA planning document listing space station crews up to 2013. Of those, the final three crews had not yet been publicly announced. The document looked official enough, with official photos of each astronaut and cosmonaut, but that isn't proof. I phoned NASA, got a polite "no comment," and put it aside as tantalizing but uncheckable.

Then NASA gave the story's credibility an unexpected boost.

It announced two of those three station crews, exactly as the planning document shows them. NASA confirmed not just crews' names, but their roles. The planning document's final crew -- ostensibly Hadfield's -- is not yet announced but now seems likely...

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