BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan – Chris Hadfield has successfully blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a mission that is to see him become the first Canadian to command the International Space Station.
Hadfield is travelling to the space station on board a Russian Soyuz capsule for a five-month visit to the giant orbiting space lab.
He is sharing the trip to the space station with NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko.
Governor-General David Johnston called Hadfield’s launch “a great day for Canada, a great day for the world of discovery and innovation.”
He joined the families of Canadian Space Agency employees at its headquarters south of Montreal to watch the event on a giant TV screen.
“We’re so proud that Chris Hadfield now is up in space – the first Canadian to be commanding the space station in March,” he said.
“And now we simply pray for a continued safe mission and a safe return.”
During his stay, Hadfield, an avid guitar player, plans to do some strumming to help him deal with homesickness.
The 53-year-old space veteran will also be involved with more than 130 experiments including Micro-flow, a Canadian blood-sampling experiment which he compared to a hospital in a box.
During the second half of his mission, Hadfield will become the first Canadian to command the space station.
This is Hadfield’s third space journey.
His first space trip was in November 1995 when he visited the Russian Space Station Mir. His second voyage was a visit to the International Space Station in April 2001, when he also performed two space walks.
Rookie astronaut David Saint-Jacques and former Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk provided a running commentary of this morning’s blastoff. Thirsk was the last Canadian in space and spent six months on board the space station in 2009.
Marc Garneau, who was the first Canadian to shuttle into outer space, said he’s proud of Hadfield’s accomplishments and wished him well.
“This is a first,” he said Tuesday. “The first (Canadian) commander of the International Space Station.”
“That’s an incredible accomplishment. He’s an incredible guy.”
Garneau admits he’d like to be in space again.
“I’d love it, it’s fun,” he told The Canadian Press.
Garneau has moved on to more earthly challenges. The Liberal member of Parliament is running to become the federal party’s next leader.
Today’s launch was from Russia’s manned space facility in the freezing steppes of Kazakhstan, where temperatures were at minus 30 degrees Celcius earlier this week.
This morning’s launch marked a return to use of the launch pad known as Gagarin’s Start, where Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin blasted off in 1961 for the first human orbital space flight. Another launch site was used for the previous mission, which set off in October.
The Soyuz craft Hadfield and his colleagues are travelling on is a variation on the vehicle that has been in constant use by the Soviet and then Russian manned space programs since 1967.
With the decommissioning of the U.S. shuttle fleet, the Soyuz is now the only vehicle able to carry astronauts to the space station.