Just before becoming the first Canadian to take command of the International Space Station on Wednesday, Chris Hadfield gave Victoria another moment in the sun — or, to be more accurate, in low Earth orbit.
“Victoria, B.C. High-tech hub (not just tea and flowers…),” he wrote under the picture, a largely cloudless view of the region stretching from Metchosin to the Malahat.
That description was a good-humoured nod to Victoria’s tech community, a bit of an in-joke that, like the space station itself, flew over the heads of most of the half-million earthlings who now follow Hadfield on Twitter.
It began Jan. 13 when Hadfield snapped and posted a picture with the cutline “Here’s Victoria, B.C. Have tea at the Empress and take time to walk through Butchart Gardens.”
That brought a teasing response from the Victoria Advanced Technology Council, which quickly put together a YouTube video in which a supposedly miffed VIATec executive director Dan Gunn does a spit take and has lasers etch a message on the space station: “Victoria, more than tea and flowers, Hadfield — Tectoria.”
The local group sent the YouTube link to Hadfield on Feb. 14, along with the message “A special Valentine from Victoria B.C. to Canada’s coolest spaceman” (to find the video, go to YouTube and search for “Victoria’s tech sector beams message to the International Space Station”).
That led to this week’s response from Hadfield, much to the delight of Gunn. He was greeted by a blizzard of texts alerting him to the post when he awoke Wednesday in Austin, Texas, where he’s attending a tech conference.
It was great to get a reply from Hadfield, whose emergence as a folksy, guitar-playing social media superstar has almost eclipsed his exploits as an astronaut. Not since the early shuttle launches have people become so fired up about the space program, and that’s down to Hadfield, Gunn says. “He has just been a regular guy in space, and people really gravitate toward that.”
Hadfield’s fans appear to include the Queen, who sent him a congratulatory message Wednesday when he became the first representative of a Commonwealth country to take command of the space station. The outgoing commander, NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, surprised Hadfield by playing O Canada over the space system of the orbiting space lab during a small ceremony. The Canadian Press reported that Hadfield, 53, thanked Ford for giving him “the keys to the family car.” With the exception of a Belgian astronaut, the Canadian is the first non-Russian or non-U.S. citizen to do the job.
Previously, Hadfield became the first Canadian to walk in space, doing so twice for a total of almost 15 hours during a shuttle mission in 2001. That was his second shuttle flight, the first coming in 1995.
Hadfield has local connections. He once studied at Royal Roads Military College. His mother-in-law, Gwen Walter, lives in Saanich, where she markets mission memorabilia online through expedition35.com.
Walter, whom Hadfield phoned from space on New Year’s Day, said earlier that she hopes he will call again tomorrow to wish her happy birthday.
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On to more mundane air travel: Sunday’s column whined about the amount of carry-on luggage that Victoria passengers try to take on flights.
We could have it worse, though, according to readers. A Sooke couple wrote of seeing someone haul a grandfather clock aboard a plane in Hawaii with nary a peep from the airline staff.
Others complained of being nickel-and-dimed by foreign airlines. Janet Robbins of Courtenay recently booked a trip from Pisa, Italy, to Manchester, England: “I paid extra to check a bag, I paid extra to book my seat, I declined to pay extra for extra leg room or a meal in flight. Here’s the clincher, I then had to pay extra to check in — eight euros online or 13 euros at the airport. I contacted the airline to ask: ‘How can a passenger get on a plane without checking in?’ ”
Count your blessings.
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