By Peter Rakobowchuk
The Canadian Press — Montreal
As Chris Hadfield orbits the planet once every 92 minutes aboard the International Space Station, his wife Helene doesn’t spend her time worrying about her astronaut husband.
The Canadian space veteran, who is on a five-month visit to the giant laboratory, is due to return to Earth in mid-May.
Since Hadfield and two other astronauts blasted off inside a Russian Soyuz capsule last Dec. 19, his wife, a mother of three adult children, has kept herself busy.
Her activities have included attending a fitness camp in Utah and an improv class in California.
“It’s been fun,” Helene, 52, said from the family cottage near Sarnia, Ont. “He can’t be the only one that has some adventure, right?”
In a wide-ranging interview with The Canadian Press, she said she isn’t preoccupied with the possibility the worst might happen to her husband, the first Canadian to take command of the football-field-sized space lab.
”This is the safest thing he’s ever done,“ she said, noting Hadfield had previously been a test pilot and a fighter pilot.
“But really, if I worried about it all the time I would make myself crazy.”
The same can’t be said for Evan Hadfield, the couple’s younger son who was celebrating his 28th birthday on Friday in Darmstadt, Germany.
The Hadfield family is scattered about the planet; mother Helene lives mostly in Houston along with the families of other astronauts.
The youngest, daughter Kristin, 26, attends Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, while older brother Kyle, 30, is in Wuhan, China.
Evan, who operates a back-packing travel agency, admits he was worried about the December launch after families he knew lost their loved ones in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.
The seven astronauts on board were killed when the shuttle broke apart during re-entry into the atmosphere.
The young Hadfield said his fear is more palpable during any launch of a rocket.
“You’re strapping your family member to a bomb and hoping the bomb explodes in the right direction,” he added.
Evan added he isn’t afraid of his father dying. His concern is that people — particularly the media — would forget the astronaut’s accomplishments.
He said his father’s life would be turned into the one day when he died, “and I think that’s an absolute shame and it would be an insult to the years of dedicated work that he put in.”
Since Hadfield’s safe arrival on the space station, his son has been keeping an eye on his father’s out-of-this-world tweets and acting as an Internet janitor.
“I read seven (thousand) to 13,000 comments a day,” Evan said. “Maybe 10 need corrections or some sort of deletion.”
But the majority who follow his dad like what the Canadian astronaut is doing and say his photos have rekindled their interest in the space industry.
As of mid-April, one month before his return on May 13, Hadfield, 53, had picked up more than 650,000 followers on Twitter.
In an interview from Dublin, Kristin provided a bit of insight into her father’s personality and the man behind those highly animated news conferences from space.
“He’s a big joker, he loves puns and loves word play and making jokes,” she said.
“I think his public representation is similar to his private representation which is just a really hard-working, focused kind of fun, positive guy.”
Her mother said the man who talks to schoolchildren and tweets from space is the real Hadfield.
“It’s wonderful that people get to see that because he really is that guy,” Helene said. “That’s the guy I fell in love with, you know that’s the guy I’m still in love with.”
Kristin added the family have learned to live apart over the years but still keep in touch by email and get together at Christmas.
“We don’t see each other very often at all, but we’re very close to one another,” she said.
Hadfield has missed a number of family occasions during his latest space adventure.
“My brother turned 30 while my dad was in space, my mom had her birthday, it was their (31st) anniversary while my dad was in space,” Kristin noted.
Hadfield’s current space station visit is his third trip into the cosmos.
His first space trip was in November 1995 when he visited the Russian Space Station Mir. His second voyage was a visit to the International Space Station in April 2001, when he also performed two space walks.
Hadfield’s daughter says neither she nor her two brothers have considered the possibility of following their father’s giant leaps into space.
“My brothers are both colour-blind, so neither of them could become astronauts — even if they wanted to — and I get motion-sick so I would be a very poor astronaut candidate,” Kristin said.
“I don’t think any of us have had any interest either.”
She also said her dad has been finding it a bit more challenging to stay in shape.
“It was difficult for him to keep up medically with all the things that they were throwing at him,” she said.
“So you know I don’t think that he could expect to go into space again.”
Hadfield’s wife isn’t so sure.
“You never know they may be looking for some older guys to go to Mars,” she said, citing former NASA astronaut John Glenn.
Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, also became the oldest person to fly in space, when he flew on a U.S. shuttle in 1998 at the age of 77.
“I mean if John Glenn could fly, then there’s no saying that Chris Hadfield couldn’t fly again,” Helene said.