On Monday evening, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield will wrap up his stay aboard the International Space Station when he and two fellow crewmembers touch down in eastern Kazakhstan. A veteran of two previous missions, Hadfield has become a media sensation—and an inspiration to millions—during his five months in space thanks to a regular stream of Tweets and photos and nearly 70 videos that covered a wide array of topics; from what it’s like to brush your teeth and how difficult it is cry in space to how to play the guitar and clip your fingernails—in zero-gravity.
For Hadfield, who’s now a civilian astronaut after a 25-year career in the Canadian Armed Forces, reviving popular interest in space exploration is a deeply personal mission—his own career path was set at the age of nine when he, like millions of others around the globe, watched the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. And while many fans have only recently gotten to know him, his social media, space-marketing plan has been in the works for nearly three years. Already the first Canadian to walk in space, Hadfield was slated to become the first of his countrymen to command the International Space Station when the program’s Expedition 34 embarked on December 19, 2012. Hadfield decided that the mission was an ideal opportunity to get Canada, and the rest of the world, excited about space again after programs around the world suffered substantial cutbacks in recent years. With the help of his two sons, he established a presence on Twitter that grew from 20,000 followers around the start of his mission to more than 800,000 by its end yesterday. In addition, his videos have received more than 22 million video videos to the Canadian Space Agency’s YouTube channel, with millions more visiting the agency’s site itself for more information on Hadfield.
The 53-year old Hadfield has clearly enjoyed his stint 230 miles above Earth. He’s installed a Zero-G Christmas Tree, talked with Star Trek icon William Shatner, sang a tune dedicated to the ISS with the group Barenaked Ladies and, like every good Ontario boy, has cheered on the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s also played witness, from afar, to a series of more somber events back home, posting photos of war-torn Syria and tweeted an intergalactic photo of Boston Harbor to wish the city well in the days following the April bombings at the Boston Marathon.
It wasn’t all fun and games aboard the ISS, however. Hadfield and the five other astronauts aboard performed hundreds of scientific experiments, leaving the crew just 12 hours of free-time each week, making Hadfield’s constant messages back home even more remarkable. And just this past week, the crew had to move to quickly to avoid a potential disaster after the discovery of a possible ammonia leak in the ISS’s coolant system precipitated a last-minute spacewalk to make repairs.
Yesterday, as Commander Hadfield prepared to hand the reins to his replacement aboard ISS and say goodbye to space, he managed to make history yet again, becoming the first person to record a music video in space. Fittingly, it was to music legend David Bowie’s 1969 hit, “Space Oddity,” written the same year Hadfield himself was inspired to reach for the stars by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.