MONTREAL - If the Mayan calendar really does foreshadow the end of the world next week, look at the bright side: One of the only people to live beyond the apocalypse would be a Canadian.
Astronaut Chris Hadfield is leaving on a lengthy space mission — and he'll be skipping the planet just in time for the decisive date.
Hadfield will blast off in a Russian space capsule with two colleagues next Wednesday and he's scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station on the declared doomsday: Dec. 21.
"We're going to be docking on the day the world ends," Hadfield says, "or at least as some interpreters of ancient pieces of stone would have you believe.
"That's all ridiculous, of course, but it's just kind of a fun thing to talk about."
Hadfield joked about the timing of his mission during a 90-minute exchange Tuesday with reporters, which he participated in by conference call from his spot in quarantine at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
On a more philosophical note, the 53-year-old space veteran said it's human nature for people to want their lives to have some historical significance.
Experiencing the apocalypse would certainly fit that bill.
"Everyone wants their 75 or 80 years on Earth to be the most significant ones in history," Hadfield said. "And what could make our time on Earth more significant than if the world ended while we were alive?"
The married father of three grown children said that while his space-station visit probably won't coincide with the end of the world, it will mark the end of a lifelong dream.
"What's about to happen in two weeks — assuming the world doesn't end — is for me very much an extremely visible expression of what's important to me, the things that I've focused my life on," Hadfield said.
"My particular way of trying to find some significance in the world is to do my absolute best to take these first steps into space, safely and to use it to open doors ... for Canadians following after I've had a chance to do this."
Hadfield will also become the first Canadian to command the space station while he's there. That will occur during the second half of his visit, which will last at least five months.
In response to one question, the Sarnia, Ont., native said that what he actually feared most was a family member getting sick, hurt or dying while he's orbiting the planet.
"That would be extremely difficult to deal with psychologically for the whole crew (and) specifically for the astronaut or cosmonaut that happens to," he said.
Hadfield noted that the mother of NASA astronaut Dan Tani suddenly died while the American was spending 120 days on the giant orbiting space lab in 2007.
"His mom was killed in a car crash and so I was the astronaut helping his wife and his two baby daughters to get on the airplane to go up to represent him at the funeral," Hadfield said.
"Dan just felt terrible, isolated and incapable of coming and grieving and being with his family."
But Hadfield said astronauts try to "think through" unexpected events in advance, adding that he and his colleagues have already talked about the possibilities.
The veteran of two previous space flights will be joined in his launch to the station by NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, after blasting off from Kazakhstan.
Hadfield is scheduled to return to Earth in mid-May. Of course, he might be tempted to try stretching that trip out as much as possible, depending on whether the blue marble on the horizon survives Dec. 21.
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