Great Cana­di­ans on Those Who In­spired Them

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moon. All of a sud­den, he felt a click be­tween what he’d seen on the screen and what he saw up in the sky. That con­nec­tion, he says, was life defin­ing.

It would be two decades be­fore Canada started its own space pro­gram. Even so, Hadfield says, from that mo­ment on, he be­gan mak­ing all of his de­ci­sions (what to eat for lunch, what to study in school) based on one sim­ple no­tion: what would an as­tro­naut do? He got good marks and loved mu­sic, play­ing in sev­eral bands, though mu­sic was never some­thing he con­sid­ered as a ca­reer op­tion.

In­stead, it’s been an im­por­tant cre­ative re­lease. Hadfield com­posed an al­bum of mu­sic in space (2015’s Space Ses­sions: Songs From a Tin Can), try­ing to cap­ture his emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ences in the same way his daily med­i­cal check­ups doc­u­mented his phys­i­cal state. Hadfield cites Stan Rogers, the late Cana­dian folk singer, as his most sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence. Rogers, he says, “took men­tal, po­etic snap­shots of our en­tire coun­try,” and helped us bet­ter un­der­stand the Cana­dian col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

The same could be said of David Thomp­son, the Bri­tish-Cana­dian ex­plorer who mapped out 3.9 million square kilo­me­tres of North Amer­ica— an im­pres­sive feat. Still, Hadfield is par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nated by the two-year pe­riod be­gin­ning in 1788, when Thomp­son in­jured his leg and be­came un­able to travel. Many would wal­low in self-pity, but the great ex­plorer used that time to deepen his un­der­stand­ing of math and map-mak­ing. One gets the sense Thomp­son also wouldn’t have been much for sip­ping cof­fee on his porch.

LIKE HIS HE­ROES, Hadfield has al­ways been driven by a sense of pur­pose. He gets about 2,000 re­quests a year—to visit schools, de­liver lec­tures, en­ter the po­lit­i­cal fray. He can’t say yes to all of them, but he says yes to a lot. And if it seems like his projects are widely var­ied, that’s be­cause his am­bi­tion is vast. Hadfield wants to pre­serve the planet, in­spire the next gen­er­a­tion and con­nect us all to the deeper mean­ing of our earthly ex­is­tence.

These aims are ap­par­ent, for ex­am­ple, in Mini­verse, a doc­u­men­tary in which Hadfield drives from “Mer­cury” (New Jer­sey) to “Pluto” (the Santa Mon­ica Pier), ex­plor­ing an an­i­mated so­lar sys­tem that’s been su­per­im­posed across the cen­tral United States. “If you can take some­thing com­plex

HADFIELD WANTS TO PRE­SERVE THE PLANET,

IN­SPIRE THE NEXT GEN­ER­A­TION AND

CON­NECT US ALL TO THE MEAN­ING OF LIFE.

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