Canada’s most famous astronaut reached royal realms on Thursday (Feb. 9).

King Charles III met with Chris Hadfield, the retired Canadian astronaut best known for commanding the International Space Station (ISS) in 2012-13 with social media flair. The discussion concerned “efforts to encourage sustainability in space,” the official Royal Family Twitter account (opens in new tab) stated. 

“What a pleasure and privilege to be asked to advise and assist, and make the King laugh,” Hadfield wrote of the experience on Twitter (opens in new tab), alongside a picture showing His Majesty looking amused.

Specifics of the conversation have not yet been shared, but “sustainability” could refer to dealing with problems such as space debris, the light pollution affecting our night sky, or overall environmental concerns raised by rocket launches, for example. King Charles III is a noted environmentalist, particularly seeking to address problems like climate change, according to our sister publication Country Life (opens in new tab).

Related: Life in space: Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s video guide

Hadfield was a fighter pilot with experience flying sorties for NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) before joining the Canadian Space Agency in 1992. He retired from the Canadian Air Force as a colonel in 2003 after 25 years of service.

Hadfield flew three times in space during his 21 years as an astronaut. He was the only Canadian to visit Russia’s Mir space station, doing so in November 1995. He also was the first-ever Canadian to spacewalk, which happened during the installation of the robotic Canadarm2 on the ISS in April 2001. 

Hadfield’s extravehicular crewmate in 2001, NASA’s Scott Parazynski, was named an “honorary Canadian” during one sortie with Hadfield in which the Canadian anthem was played in space (opens in new tab). Incidentally, Hadfield got one more orbital rendition of “O Canada” (opens in new tab) when he assumed command of the space station in 2013.

Chris Hadfield was the first Canadian astronaut to perform a spacewalk, in April 2001. Note the Canadian flag patch on NASA’s extravehicular mobility spacesuit. (Image credit: NASA) (opens in new tab)

During Hadfield’s ISS command, he ran the most scientifically productive space station excursion of the era. He also spent his spare time singing David Bowie’s “Space Odyssey” on camera and sharing videos and photos on social media of everyday space life, engaging millions of viewers worldwide.

Behind the scenes, Hadfield was chief capcom (communicator) with the space shuttle on 25 missions, and between 2001 and 2003 was the director of operations for NASA at Russia’s cosmonaut training center near Moscow. He retired as an astronaut in 2013.

All of this experience got attention from a senior Canadian official living overseas: “Chris can provide a strong perspective,” tweeted (opens in new tab) Ralph Goodale, Canada’s high commissioner in the United Kingdom.

Related: 12 highlights of Chris Hadfield’s high-flying career

Hadfield’s missions had brought him to royal attention long before his meeting with the king.

Hadfield received (opens in new tab) the Order of Canada in 2014 “for his commitment to promoting scientific discovery and for sharing the wonders of space exploration with the world.” The order is awarded by the royal representative in Canada, called the governor general, who was then David Johnston.

Queen Elizabeth II, who reigned for 70 years until her death on Sept. 8, 2022, also sent personal congratulations to Hadfield when he took charge of the ISS on March 13, 2013. “I am pleased to transmit my personal best wishes, and those of all Canadians,” Her Majesty’s message said in part. “Our thoughts and best wishes are with him and the entire crew.”

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield strums his guitar in the International Space Station’s Cupola on Dec. 25, 2012.  (Image credit: NASA) (opens in new tab)

Hadfield was the first citizen of a Commonwealth nation to take control of the space station. The Commonwealth is a group of 56 countries “with historic links to the United Kingdom” according to Global Affairs Canada (opens in new tab). Previously, these countries had connections with the now-disbanded British Empire.

Canada’s ties with the U.K. are longstanding and deep; the parliamentary government system in Canada is based upon that of the U.K., for example. But colonialism by England and other countries in what is now called Canada, starting in the 1600s, caused massive upheaval; Indigenous peoples had been living in the area for thousands of years before the colonists arrived. 

Residential schools, disease, death and maltreatment are among the matters that the government-supported Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (opens in new tab) sought to address in years of work, culminating in a massive report in 2015. Canadian governments have been seeking ways to push “reconciliation” forward in the years since; not all Indigenous peoples agree with the process or proposed restitutions, however.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of “Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).

Elizabeth Howell

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