“Chris is a rock star, there is no two ways about it,” says Stephen Quick, director of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.
“We’ve seen it from the beginning with Chris. We’ve had him in here to do briefings on how to fly a CF-18, and on training for space, and he is as adept at talking to a six-year-old with stars in their eyes as he is talking to the governor-general or a head of state.
“He tunes into that person. He has this vibrant personality, this twinkle in his eye, and it is almost a mischievous twinkle.
“What other astronaut has had a Twitter tete-a-tete with William Shatner? To even do that, it goes beyond the boundaries.”
Commander Hadfield is a crossover spaceman. Space-nerd-kids love him. But so does everybody else, presumably for his everyman charisma, but also because he is accessible by design.
[. . .]
The Canadian astronaut had about 20,000 followers on Twitter in mid-December. He had 441,125 followers when I checked at 5 p.m. EST Monday, which was 600 more than he had a few hours before, and about 140,000 more than our Prime Minister and 430,000 more than Marc Garneau, Canada’s astronaut emeritus and candidate for the Liberal Party leadership.
[. . .]
The American rocket men of yore, such as Aldrin and Armstrong, were minted American heroes. They zoomed up, up and away, and they never really returned to Earth, settling instead on some pedestal reserved for priceless national treasures.
There they remained, mostly because of what they did but also because the wonder of space travel lost some of its wonder, as more and more rockets and space shuttles roared off. It became just another thing.
Now along comes this new phenomenon, Chris Hadfield, and suddenly the space celebrity machine is whirring again, only we don’t look up at our Chris — or read his Twitter feed with stars in our eyes — but with the winking suspicion that he’s the kind of astronaut who’d be great to grab a beer with.