LONGUEUIL, Que. – Just days before his retirement, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has received a one-of-a-kind national honour for his accomplishments during his memorable final space mission.
A Meritorious Service Medal was pinned on Hadfield by Gov. Gen. David Johnston during a presentation Thursday at the Canadian Space Agency.
The space veteran was awarded the civilian version of the Meritorious Service Cross, becoming the first Canadian to hold both the civilian and military decorations of the award.
Johnston said the civilian version is awarded to Canadians who have performed an exceptional deed over a limited period of time which has brought great honour to the country.
Hadfield spent five months on the International Space Station and became the first Canadian to command the giant orbiting space lab during his stay.
He also became known worldwide for his tweets, breath-taking photos of Earth and his videos from space aimed at entertaining and educating.
The three-time space visitor ended up with more than one million followers on Twitter, after starting out with 20,000 when he blasted off for the space station in mid-December.
“You have managed to reach out, not only to space aficionados, but also people who had lost interest in the lure of space, as well as children with vast imaginations,” Johnston said during the medal presentation.
The Governor General also recalled that during his mission, Hadfield tweeted with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, otherwise known as Capt. Kirk and Spock of Star Trek fame.
Johnston noted that even astronaut Buzz Aldrin got in on the Twitter fun. Aldrin followed Neil Armstrong, the first American astronaut to walk on the lunar surface, in July 1969.
“Indeed, the only thing I can say to that is: live long and prosper,” Johnston added.
The Governor General praised Hadfield’s use of communications technologies, which he described as truly innovative.
But Johnston said it was especially Hadfield’s passion and personality that made the astronaut’s outreach an enormous success.
The 53-year-old astronaut, who is retiring on July 3, called it a great honour to receive the medal.
“This medal on my chest, this cross on my chest, is also just a symbol, it is a moment in time today here together,” Hadfield said.
“But this is a symbol of the recognition for the work that we did.”
Hadfield noted that there were people at the space agency who have toiled “for years and years to make it possible to accomplish what we accomplished over the last several months, over the last half-year in orbit.”
-With files by Peter Rakobowchuk
© The Canadian Press, 2013