VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Astronaut Chris Hadfield will become the first Canadian ever to command a spaceship when he takes the helm of the International Space Station in 2013.
Hadfield currently is spending most of his time in Russia preparing for the mission, but he took a couple of days off to return to his native country and meet the public here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"I'm trying to get people to maybe expand their horizon a little bit and to look at some of the stuff that’s going on now that’s new in the human experience and what it can mean to them," Hadfield told reporters after his public session Saturday (Feb. 18). "I want them to come out of there with new thoughts."
Hadfield, 52, a veteran of two space shuttle flights, will launch on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in November 2012 and take over control of the space station's Expedition 35 mission the following March. One of nine Canadians to fly to space, he will be the first to serve as commander.
"It's important for Canada: We have reached a level where we're not just respected but intrinsically counted on," Hadfield told SPACE.com."There is no higher responsibility on the space station than commanding it. The trust is there, and the route that got us there has been established."
The spaceflyer is a native of Milton, Ontario, and is a retired colonel in the Canadian Air Force. He was chosen as one of four new Canadian astronauts in 1992.
In addition to flying on two NASA space shuttle missions — in 1995 and 2001 — Hadfield commanded a 13-day underwater mission off Key Largo, Fla., in 2010 that trained astronauts for spaceflight.
Hadfield, who moonlights as the lead singer in two bands when he's not flying in space, plans to record a full album during his six months on the orbiting outpost.
"I want to write some lullabies up there — a space lullaby would be nice," Hadfield said. "The first guys on the way to Mars will hopefully be listening to some of the music we write."
He will be leading a crew that also includes three Russian cosmonauts and two NASA astronauts.
"My number one goal of this flight is for this to be the best six months of their life," Hadfield said. "I want them to stay healthy and happy the whole time. We have a guitar onboard and we have poetry onboard, and the photographic capability to capture the experience. That is the part of it I want to promote and support, and bring back a group of people that absolutely treasure the time we have."
Hadfield is looking forward to viewing the Earth, and especially the auroras — the northern and southern lights — from space. He recalled a particularly vivid memory of the auroras during a spacewalk he made on the STS-100 flight of the space shuttle Endeavour in 2001. [Video: Over Earth: Auroras Light Up Canada And Northern U.S.]
"I was riding on Canadarm, going from one side of the space station to the other," Hadfield said, referring to the space station's 57-foot (17-meter) mechanical arm. "I shut off the lights on my helmet to let my eyes adjust so I could see Australia in the darkness. As we came across the Indian Ocean I started looking for Australia, but instead I saw the southern lights. They were rippling and pouring. Normally you just see green. I saw reds and oranges and yellows and green. They were just pouring out of the world and coming up under my feet."
You can follow SPACE.com Assistant Managing Editor Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.