General

No dogs in space

No dogs in space

No dogs in space. Or so the NASA website says. On April 24, 2016, two Canadian scientists were looking at something else.

Chris Hadfield was in orbit. He’s a video star, the first Canadian and first man to beam from space directly to the world. His adventures include a visit to a Russian cosmonaut’s toilet and his first-ever visit to the International Space Station. He spent five months on board, living the life of a cosmonaut, or rather living out of a cupboard, the ISS being cramped. But his two-and-a-half-month stint as commander of the space station in 2013 meant he was out in the void doing his thing. And Hadfield’s day was marked by a visit from something new: a cat.

The cat, with a name given by the NASA astronauts aboard the station, had been sent from another astronaut in the crew to be social with Hadfield and the other men. The astronaut’s colleague, Chris Cassidy, is a vet. So he called him over when he received word that the cat had somehow escaped from the spaceship that takes it and its passengers from the station down to Earth.

“How do we get a cat into space?” Cassidy asked.

“What?” Hadfield says.

“A cat. We need a cat.”

Hadfield thought. “I’ll bring him on board.”

The astronauts on the station got to work. A cat carrier was built. A cat carrier designed to allow the feline’s paws to dangle but that would hold the cat firmly in place. Cats can get carried away with the smell of human flesh. And astronauts in space can suffer from claustrophobia. This wouldn’t work.

Cassidy brought the box on board and gave it a thorough going-over, inspecting the box, and Hadfield inspected the cat, which, he says, looked healthy and as if he was a pretty nice cat.

“The cat, I was like, fine,” Hadfield says. “I knew it was not going to fit.”

But it did. He lifted the box aboard and set it down inside one of the cupboards in the Soyuz. For the next nine months, the cat would have the cabin to himself.

Then, after nine months in orbit, the crew would go back to Earth. Once they got there, the cat would be sent into quarantine, a place aboard the station where the astronauts are kept separate from other humans for a period of time before going to the medical clinic.

Then, a month later, the two men would take a ride down to land at a place called Kazakhstan, on Earth, in the middle of nowhere. The next day they’d be treated to an entire Kazakh feast: horse and lamb and rice and vodka and dumplings and cheese and pickles and borscht.

“Then we’d have to get him into quarantine,” Hadfield says. “It’s not a place you want to be — it’s a prison cell. We’d leave him in the middle of nowhere for a month or so.”

After that, they’d spend the next year or so in quarantine at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. That was the end of the trip. But there was no returning home to Canada. The Hadfield family would have to wait until his next journey, in 2020, and when it happened, he would be heading back to Canada.

There, he’d go on to be an astronaut for the next four years, and then he’d go back to Canada and be an astronaut for the next four years.

“Space travel is not a great place to be,” he says. “You’re living in a pressure cooker, with no windows, on a spaceship that’s flying at 17,000 miles per hour.”

Hadfield is the only astronaut to fly twice, but not the first. There was Wally Schirra, the first American in space, back in 1961. He made it to space four times — three of those were trips to the moon, and he made it twice.

So why isn’t Schirra, who retired at age 72, still on the space program? Well, he’s alive and well. And if you look at the way he flew, it’s not the same as it was for Hadfield.

“Well, he flew more than me,” Hadfield says.

When he was an astronaut, Schirra was always on the back of a Soyuz, which is a capsule that can be lowered to the ground from space. But it was hard for Hadfield, because he had to lie flat.

“And I still think I’m the best flyer of anybody on this space program.”

And the last time Hadfield went up was about a year ago. He went up to do another spacewalk, and he could feel it more this time around, because he’d been on the Soyuz, too.

“It’s a little bit like being on a bike, and riding through the desert,” he says.

Hadfield says when he was going up into space, he was very nervous, and he was afraid of what might happen if something went wrong. But the way he’s felt since returning, he’s not sure he’s ever been more at peace with what could happen.

“It’s a whole different set of butterflies,” he says.

When we first talk to Hadfield, he is about to go to the bathroom.

He comes back a few minutes later, and we talk for a little bit longer. He’s excited to talk about what’s next for him.

A new space station. And new responsibilities. He’ll be the acting commander. And it’s what he’s been doing all along.

Hadfield says he’s going to get ready for that next step. And after a year as an acting commander, he is the only astronaut, so far, who has gone from being an officer to being a commander.

But he’s not giving up the pilot’s hat just yet.

“You know, I keep hoping the next flight will be a Soyuz, because that’s the flight that’s going to be available as a crew member if all of us are busy. That’s the one that’s going to give me the experience that I’m ready for.”

For now, he says, he’s concentrating on what he can control.

In the meantime, he’ll have more time to talk to young kids like T.J., who is now a big hockey fan.

“Oh, yeah, absolutely. He loves hockey. He’s got all his dad’s stuff on his walls now. I think the Canucks are doing pretty good. They’ve got a lot of good teams this year. So it’s just cool to talk to kids like him, and share something that you do. And tell them you can imagine where that interest and that drive might take you. That the sky’s the limit.”


Watch the video: THE MAKING OF DOGS IN SPACE (December 2021).