Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen, who will fly to the moon as part of the Artemis II mission, speaks during the Canada Day noon show at LeBreton Flats in Ottawa, on Saturday, July 1, 2023. Hansen is to be marshal of this year's Calgary Stampede parade. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

‘Don’t fall off the horse’: Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen leading Stampede parade

Col. Jeremy Hansen is preparing to become the first Canadian to travel to the moon as part of the Artemis II mission, but in the meantime he’s tasked with cowboying up to become the second astronaut to be marshal of the Calgary Stampede parade.

The 10-day Artemis II mission could launch as early as November of next year and involves slingshotting into deep space for a figure-8 manoeuvre around the far side of the moon. It would mark the first time any human has ventured so far from Earth.

But on Friday morning, Hansen’s task is to ride on horseback for more than two hours through Calgary’s downtown before hundreds of thousands of cheering fans.

He’s excited, but expects going into outer space might be a bit more challenging.

“Going to the moon has to be. If the parade marshal ends up being more daunting, that would be a bad surprise I think,” he said with a laugh.

“I’m super excited to be here. I feel kind of like Christmas-morning giddy about this opportunity to be back in Alberta. It’s actually my first time at the Stampede and to be doing it as parade marshal is pretty special.”

Chris Hadfield was the first Canadian astronaut to be parade marshal after flying two space shuttle missions and serving as commander of the International Space Station.

“I did reach out to Chris Hadfield to get some advice since he was the parade marshal in 2013 and he said two things: Make sure you ride your horse in advance and watch out for the fireworks,” Hansen said.

“It was basically ‘don’t fall off the horse and you’ll be fine.’”

An estimated 300,000 spectators are expected to line the streets to watch floats, marching bands and dignitaries go by. People have traditionally arrived hours before the parade begins to get good seats.

Stampede Park has been a beehive of activity for the past week with the setting up of rides and concession stands.

“It’s like prom. We’re getting ready for the big day and when it starts we can put a corsage on it,” said Gregg (Scooter) Korek, vice-president of client services for North American Midway Entertainment, who will be making his 46th appearance at the Stampede.

Growing up in Calgary, he joined the midway group as a teen. Korek said it’s a relief the COVID-19 pandemic is in the past.

“It was very trying times with the hand sanitizing and the sanitizing of all of our equipment. That was a tough go but we get it and we did a very successful job of it but I’m so happy that’s behind us right now.”

The Stampede, which runs through July 16, has traditionally been a magnet for politicians. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is expected to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss a number of issues including emission reductions and the net-zero target for electricity by 2035.

“I’ve had to be fairly firm in putting those messages forward and we’ll see if we manage to have a breakthrough,” Smith said Wednesday.

“I still remain hopeful. I’ll let you know after our meeting whether that hope is misplaced or whether or not we have something to agree to move forward on.”

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