Astronaut Chris Hadfield returned to Earth on Monday night after a five-month mission at the International Space Station that saw him become the first Canadian to command the orbiting laboratory.
The 53 year old touched down in Kazakhstan on a Russian Soyuz capsule which was also carrying Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn — the same pair Hadfield blasted off with on Dec. 19, 2012.
The journey was Hadfield’s first return space flight inside the cramped Russian space capsule. The craft tore into the atmosphere before a parachute opened, slowing its descent until it hit the ground at 10:31 p.m. ET.
Rescue teams moved quickly to help the crew in their bulky spacesuits get out through the narrow exit hatch of the capsule. They were then put into reclining chairs to start adjusting to Earth’s gravity.
The three astronauts smiled as they chatted with space agency officials and doctors who were checking their condition. Hadfield, who served as the space station’s commander, gave a thumbs-up sign.
During his stay in space, Hadfield became a bit of an extraplanetary media star. He tweeted photos, talked to schoolchildren, strummed his guitar and provided videos about daily life on the station.
He bid a dramatic farewell on Sunday with his own, revised version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, recorded at the space station and posted to YouTube.
It’s believed to be the first music video made in space, according to NASA.
Many commended Hadfield on his engagement with the public from space as he made his way back to Earth.
In a statement issued after Hadfield returned to Earth, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the astronaut has done an ”absolutely remarkable job as the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station.”
“His highly effective use of social media has brought the miracle of space travel home to Canadians and to the entire world,” said Harper.
The prime minister also noted that Hadfield’s ”tireless and unique efforts” to educate Canada and the world about space ”are nothing short of inspirational.”
The BBC’s science editor called Hadfield “the most famous astronaut since Neil Armstrong and Yuri Gagarin,” who had done more than anyone to raise the profile of the space station.
One Brazilian news organization dubbed him the “pop astronaut.”
Harper tweeted: “Thanking (Hadfield) for his inspiring contribution to discovery and for making all Canadians proud.”
Meanwhile, Canada’s most famous fictional astronaut, William Shatner, tweeted: “I have 2 words for him: ‘SHOW OFF!’ I’d even look good floating there singing!”
While Hadfield may be best remembered for his photography and music from space, his main task throughout the mission was performing more than 100 science experiments, such as examining changes to the spine, bone density and nutrition in space.
This visit to the space station was Hadfield’s third space journey.
The engineer and former test pilot from Milton, Ont., made his first trip to space in November 1995 when he visited the old Russian Space Station Mir.
His second voyage was to the International Space Station in April 2001, when he also performed two space walks.
The latest trip is, in a sense, the end of an era for the Canadian space program.
With Hadfield’s return, it will now be at least three years before the next Canadian astronaut visits the space station.
Gilles Leclerc, the interim head of the Canadian Space Agency, has said there probably won’t be another Canadian visit to the space station before 2016.
That trip would go to one of Canada’s two new astronauts: David Saint-Jacques or Jeremy Hansen.
The station will be kept in operation until at least 2020.