Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Day One Hundred Eighty Two: Bringing Chris Hadfield Home

We are riding the yellow school bus: twenty-five students, two education assistants, two teachers, one bus driver. Within the hour we are in the Queen City, capital of our province, and debussing in front of Regina's Science Centre. Their staff take us to a theatre where we learn a bit about Lego robots and then the kids are allowed to play, programming the lap tops, clapping their hands and making the robots follow them.

Around eleven we are ushered into the theatre again. We have lucked into a chance meeting with Canada's own Chris Hadfield who, in six months, will be on the International Space Station. In March 2013 Chris will become the Commander of the mission, the first Canadian to have this honour. He has taken time from his training in Star City, Russia to launch his Cross-Country Multi-Site Virtual Tour. He is cyber-visiting ten Science Centres across Canada, and here we are, in Regina, the only students in the province who get to talk to him.

They ask us if we have some questions. No, we don't. We have a few minutes before the link to Star City is secure, so I run around with a clip board and get kids to tell me one question. Then, there he is, projected on the screen in front of us. Sandy, the Science Centre Director, invites us to line up at the microphone.

"My name is Shay Agecoutay, and I want to know, who is your inspiration?"

Chris speaks of idolizing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when he was a kid. He found their work and space "fundamentally interesting," and "If I'm going to grow up and be something, I'm going to turn myself into that."

"My name is Tristen Swampy. How many languages do you know?"

Chris speaks English, and when he was young his parents focused on him speaking English very well. He can get around Germany with his German and has studied French even more and is fluent. He explains that once he started working with Russians he began studying and now he does all his training in Russian, flies in Russian, and was speaking Russian all day before he contacted us.

"I'm Skyler. What's it like in outer space?"

I wish I was taping Chris' responses. He paints a picture for us with his answer of planets and suns and how he sees sixteen sunsets in a day, and gets to know the whole world.

"My name is Kelsey Starblanket. What does it feel like seeing the earth from space?"

Chris tells a story of the first time going over his hometown of Sarnia, Ontario, and how he wanted to grab someone and say, "look, that's my space, that's where I come from" but after a week or two he started seeing Canada as a whole, and eventually he was just looking at the entire world. He wishes that world leaders had the opportunity to see the whole world from space, as "one big apple, as one spaceship" that we are all living on together.

Chris tells us that he has time for one, maybe two more questions. I hold my finger up for two, smiling at Sandy, the Science Centre director.

"My name is Eric LaRocque. What's the coolest thing that you've seen in space?"

Chris pauses. The coolest thing. He describes being on the dark side and turning off all the lights and letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. Then, over  Australia the southern lights begin shooting up at them from below, "like a laser show coming up under us." He tells us that he's seen a lot of cool things in space, but he'll always remember the time he was "surprised by the southern lights."

"Hi Chris. My name is Jack Lee. How long does it take to go to the moon, including preparations?"

Chris nods. He tells us that this must be a life-long pursuit, but he could also boil it down into this: three days to get there, eight days to train, and a lifetime to prepare for the training.

Sheldon was going to ask, "How fast do you go around the earth?" but Chris answered it in his opening comments. Tyler had another question about going to the washroom, but he saved that one only if we were desperate.

I wrote down a spare question: what are your hopes and dreams? And I also wanted to ask him about his perspectives on treaties from space, but I'm so proud of the kids and their questions.

Sandy congratulates us on our questions and a great event. One of the other staff bring me a mini-cut-out-Chris doll and explains that I can take pictures with Chris and send them to him. I find out later there is a photo contest.

We carry Chris with us as we make face imprints in the nail bed display, create giant bubbles, check out the laser photography, fly a hot air balloon, then go to lunch. Chris watches the 3D IMAX film To the Arctic, 3D glasses and everything. Then, we're on the bus, home. Welcome to Treaty Four, Chris. Welcome to Fort Qu'Appelle.

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