LONGUEUIL, Que. — In a career filled with milestones, add this one to the list of achievements by Chris Hadfield: sending in a resignation notice from outer space.
It turns out that the famous astronaut informed his superiors of his intention to leave the Canadian Space Agency a few months ago while he was still on the International Space Station.
Hadfield broke the news to the rest of the planet on Monday.
At a news conference during his first visit back to Canada since his recent return to Earth, Hadfield announced that his career at the space agency will end on July 3.
He called his career the culmination of “an incredible adventure” that began when he was a nine-year-old dreaming of flying in space. Born in Sarnia, Ont., and raised on a corn farm in Milton, Ont., he became a military pilot, moved to the U.S., and joined the space program.
“It’s brought me to the point that I’ve decided to retire from government service after 35 years of serving our country,” Hadfield told reporters at the space agency headquarters near Montreal.
Hadfield gained international prominence during his space-station stay, where he used social media to share experiments, photographs and even a memorable music video.
On the day the 53-year-old astronaut announced his retirement, he was being followed by more than one million people on Twitter.
At one point Monday he said he’s ready to pursue “private” interests, outside government. He said he hasn’t decided what he will do next, but plans to do presentations on space, make public speeches and visit schools as he reflects over the coming year on longer-term career plans.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement that Canadians are extremely proud of Hadfield’s accomplishments.
The prime minister and soon-to-be-retired astronaut had breakfast earlier Monday at 24 Sussex Dr., before Hadfield headed toward Montreal.
From being a top pilot with the Canadian Forces and U.S. Navy, to becoming a premier international space explorer, Harper called the astronaut’s career “nothing short of exceptional.” He applauded Hadfield for sharing his experiences with others back in Earth.
“Delivered in his humble and warm manner, (he) captured the hearts and the attention of Canadians and people around the world,” the prime minister said.
“He brought the excitement of being an astronaut, and the excitement of space travel to the forefront once again, and has inspired a generation of young people to follow in his footsteps.”
Hadfield admitted he was initially surprised by all the interest in his mission, but expressed pride in what the Canadian space team had achieved: “I think Canada really led the way in helping to bring space flight to everybody as a common and shared experience.”
When asked during the news conference if he might someday be interested in occupying the prime minister’s residence, he just smiled.
In a recent interview with The Canadian Press, Hadfield was asked whether he might use his newfound fame as a springboard into the political arena: “The future can hold marvellous portents and we’ll see what comes in the future — but for now, no, not at all,” he replied.
He offered such a presentation Monday, as he used his news conference to show videos and photos of his time in space.
Hadfield’s announcement didn’t quite catch the agency by surprise.
Gilles Leclerc, the CSA’s acting president, said Hadfield informed it of his plan to retire about halfway through his five-month space station mission.
“Chris communicated that decision back in March, but it was confidential,” Leclerc said Monday. “That was a decision that was planned for a long time.”
Hadfield will also be leaving behind his longtime home of Houston, where he built his career as an astronaut.
“(I’ll be) making good on a promise I made my wife nearly 30 years ago — that yes, eventually, we would be moving back to Canada,” Hadfield said.
“I’m looking forward to the next phase of life.”
He said he’s still recovering his physical strength while readjusting to gravity, and he expects to be back to normal by around Labour Day.
Hadfield said he’s lost up to five per cent of his bone density in some areas. On the other hand, because he exercised two hours a day while in space, he said he’s able to bench-press more than he used to.
He said he wants to take his time deciding what to do next, because he knows of astronauts who have struggled to adjust to life after the space program.
Hadfield said he’ll hope to have a better idea in about a year’s time.