For the first dozen minutes after a flawless liftoff from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Chris Hadfield and the other crew members could be seen from a video inside their Soyuz capsule, clutching their checklists and poking at controls with metal wands, waving at the camera and giving thumbs up signs.
Then suddenly it became clear that Mr. Hadfield had reached orbit.
Mission control said the launch was “nominal” and inside the cabin, Mr. Hadfield let go of his pen and it floated, cartwheeling when touched by his gloved fingertip.
Mr. Hadfield, Tom Mashburn, an American physician, and Roman Romanenko, a Russian Air Force officer, will now head to the International Space Station, where they will remain until May.
The trio won’t dock at the ISS until Friday, after checking the systems on their Soyuz and gradually nudging themselves into the proper orbit.
For the next five months they will become the latest crew to look after the orbital outpost and conduct scientific experiments.
The station is now home to mission commander Kevin Ford, a U.S. astronaut, and two Russian flight engineers, Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin.
By March, when Mr. Ford’s crew will rotate home and be replaced with three other space travellers, Mr. Hadfield will take over command of the ISS, the first Canadian to assume that leadership role in an orbital mission.
“I have devoted pretty much my whole adult life … to getting to this position where someone would trust me to command what is, in effect, the world’s space ship,” Mr. Hadfield said in a recent Skype interview with The Globe and Mail. “It is both an enormous thrill and a great challenge to be asked to do this.”
The launch took place during a clear but glacial evening.
In his last Twitter posts, hours before he left, Mr. Hadfield documented his last moments on Earth.
He kissed his wife, Helene, despite a glass panel separating them since the crew was in pre-launch quarantine.
He then wrote: “Just took my last hot shower for 5 months. I lingered …”
Minutes after his launch, his sons took over his Twitter account.
“The Soyuz launch was an incredibly emotional experience. Godspeed, Dad. Your achievement has literally brought us all to tears,” they wrote.
The mission is the culmination of a two-decade career with the Canadian Space Agency.
Mr. Hadfield is the third Canadian to ride a Soyuz capsule to orbit after CSA astronaut Robert Thirsk and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté, who paid a reported $40-million for his ride.
Mr. Hadfield is a former CF-18 fighter pilot who once was tasked with intercepting Soviet planes entering North American airspace.
But all three of his space flights have involved Russian partners.
He first flew on the shuttle to the Mir space station. Then in 2001 he was the first Canadian to perform a space walk when he helped install the Canadarm2 robot crane on the ISS.
During this mission, Mr. Hadfield is to take part in one and possibly two spacewalks to overhaul hardware outside the space station.
He will also be involved in the operations of Canadarm2 when the robot will grab SpaceX Dragon resupply spaceships.
Among the dozens of experiments the crew will oversee are five Canadian projects:
- Microflow, which tests a portable device that analyses blood cells, a technology that could be used in remote communities.
- VASCULAR and BP Reg, two University of Waterloo studies on the cardiovascular system and the body’s re-adaptation to gravity after a long spaceflight.
- BCAT-C1, which studies how nano-scale particles floating in liquid behave in micro-gravity.
- Radi-N2, which measures the impact of space radiations on astronauts.