Space exploration and mass media always seem to travel in parallel orbits, like twin planets linked by an unseen tether. Now, a Twitter-happy Canadian who has been giving the Earth poetic glimpses of itself from the International Space Station is saying goodbye in a most peculiar way.
Like a small metal moon, the ISS has orbited Earth for almost 13 years, which can make it easy to forget how cool it is. Cmdr. Chris Hadfield has been reminding us.
"Arid fingers of sand-blasted rock look like they're barely holding on against the hot Saharan wind," Hadfield tweeted with one photo of Africa's largest desert.
"Seven billion hearts, but I can see only one," he added, on Valentine's Day Feb. 14, tweeting a photo of an island formation resembling a heart.
Although lower orbit is a good distance for beautiful color photography, it's a long way from home when tragedy strikes. Hadfield had been in space almost four months when the Boston Marathon was bombed, and the nation's gaze settled on New England. So did Hadfield's.
"Tonight's Finale: A somber spring night in Boston," Hadfield tweeted, with a photo of Boston -- not up-close on the finish line, but of the whole city alight like a nebula and sprawling out into the dark.
Hadfield's time aboard the ISS is ending: On Sunday, he handed off command to Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vladimirovich Vinogradov as he prepared to hitch a lift home Monday on the Soyuz spacecraft.
But first, he gave his earthbound followers a glitzy viral goodbye: a stirringly literal cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity," about a space explorer drifting out of orbit. The song is a fitting, plaintive goodbye to the ISS and to Hadfield's time aboard. Hadfield's voice isn't bad either.
The video is shot like one of those J.J. Abrams scenes in "Star Trek," with lens flares gleaming across Hadfield as he jams on an acoustic guitar while drifting inside the station.
"I'm floating in a most peculiar way," Hadfield sings, adjusting the lyrics to his own situation.
For here am I, sitting in a tin can,
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing left to do.
Safe travels home, commander.
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