Chris Hadfield Touches Down in Thunder Bay: Powerful messages from Canada’s Hero Astronaut

Story By Kyle Poluyko, Photos by William Gross

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Joseph Bouchard knew for weeks that he was going to see Colonel Chris Hadfield speak at the Community Auditorium. The grade eight student from Edgewater Park School had no idea, however, just how close his encounter would be.

Col. Hadfield, Canada’s most recognizable and celebrated astronaut, was in Thunder Bay on June 4 by arrangement with Leadership Thunder Bay. He spoke to 1500 elementary school students and a capacity crowd at the auditorium later that evening. The first and only Canadian astronaut to command any space vehicle (among his many notable firsts), Col. Hadfield came with profound messages for both groups he engaged—the power of education and the importance of effective leadership.

While addressing the students, Col. Hadfield illustrated with video, animations, and audience participation what it takes to launch, execute, and return from a successful mission. He outlined the years of education and training it took him to be selected as an astronaut, fly aboard two space shuttle missions before launching on a Soyuz rocket in December of 2012 for a five-month tour of duty aboard the International Space Station where, during Expedition 35, he assumed command of the orbital outpost—just some of his endeavours during an extraordinary 21-year career.

His message to the students during the presentation and a question and answer period that followed was simple yet remarkably influential: that every boy and girl with the power of education at his or her fingertips can accomplish anything the heart or imagination desires should it be pursued.

When Bouchard asked his question about moving people or, more accurately, playfully “throwing people” in the weightless environment, Col. Hadfield stepped down off the stage and made his way into the audience to answer Bouchard directly. “It was really cool, pretty awesome because how often do you get to speak to an astronaut?” said Bouchard of his close encounter. “And his answer—it was interesting to know what they did on the space station but also how they played around because he [Hadfield] said how you could just throw someone through the space station. He came right out to us and answered more. More than he had to.”

At the evening presentation, Col. Hadfield addressed the public in much the same format, but with a different message. He spoke of how working towards a goal yet also working towards anticipating failures requires strong, prepared leadership. Perhaps, more importantly, he stressed the importance of allowing team members to have authentic leadership authority in their area of specialization—a team is prepared and ready to respond when each member is given the trust of his or her team and leader.

Repeated standing ovations offered by both audiences showed a profound respect for Col. Hadfield, a true Canadian icon and living example of what he spoke—the power of education and leadership.