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Canadian Chris Hadfield on Prairies, astronaut food and future of space travel

The quintessential Canadian astronaut food is maple syrup in tubes, says the country’s first spaceship commander.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 16:  Astronaut Chris Hadfield poses for photos in front of the Apollo 10 Command Module which travelled around the Moon in 1969 on December 16, 2013 in London, England. Chris Hadfield lived aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as Commander of Expedition 35.  (Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images)

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Bethany Clarke / Getty Images Europe

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 16: Astronaut Chris Hadfield poses for photos in front of the Apollo 10 Command Module which travelled around the Moon in 1969 on December 16, 2013 in London, England. Chris Hadfield lived aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as Commander of Expedition 35. (Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images)

Canada’s first spaceship commander, Col. Chris Hadfield, will be at the Burton Cummings Theatre Sept. 27 as part of his Canada 150 Tour. He spoke with Metro reporter Jade Markus about the Prairies, astronaut food and the future of space travel.

Metro: Your Canada 150 Tour is inspired by Canada, and you're taking it across Canada. What surprises you, or what are you still learning each time you travel across the country?

Chris Hadfield: We sort of smugly convince ourselves that we’ve got things taped, and we understand the land and the history and each other, and yet we have just the most peripheral understanding of how things truly work and how old things truly are.

To have crossed the country in eight minutes thousands of times [in space], somehow that all just coalesces together, all the history, all of the things that we don’t know yet.   

M: From that perspective, do you see the world as big or small?

CH: Both, but finite. That’s maybe the key. If you can go around the world in 92 minutes it can’t be very big.

When you’re over Winnipeg, you can see from the Rockies to the Atlantic. So you can see that big swath of Canada, but then if you wait a dozen or 15 minutes and you’re over Timbuktu.

And I think that’s what makes the world seem both big and small. Distances are large and the age is enormous, but the shared human experience is common.

M: Because it’s my hometown and I work for Metro Winnipeg—what are your thoughts on the city?

CH: To me, there’s a peace and a comfort on the Prairies that I don’t get most other places.

The flooding that occasionally happens… and the way all the engineers have worked to divert the water all around the city, it’s an interesting construct, to me, the way that Winnipeg has been built, and designed, and maintained.

I’m looking forward to being there and playing a Prairie tune, I got to play with the Guess Who, and Randy Bachman separately, and I’ve had a wonderful lucky chance to speak with Neil Young [from orbit], speaking of great Winnipeg musicians.

M: Did you secretly like the food in space? Or at least develop a taste for it?

CH: On all of my flights, I brought Canadian food… [on one] we had Tim Hortons coffee on the spaceship. Which the Russians loved.

We found the quintessential Canadian astronaut food, and that is maple syrup in tubes, like toothpaste. That actually exists—I didn’t even know that was a thing.

M: What's one thing people don’t understand about space?

CH: In popular thought people think that space flight is lonely, if you listen to Space Oddity or Rocket Man, often people use space flight as a metaphor for loneliness—it’s the opposite. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more connected to the world.  

M: Where do you see the future of space exploration going?

CH: Space flight is still new, we’re limited by technology.

The Canadian astronauts that we just chose [Jennifer Sidey and Joshua Kutryk] – I think they have a pretty reasonable chance at setting up a permanent base on the moon, because I think that’s where we’re headed next.

This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

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