Although Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has already made his mark in the annals of space exploration, he's set to add another notch to the belt on his spacesuit -- commander of the International Space Station.

"Being asked to be commander of the world's space station is a big responsibility," Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said on his final stop in Canada before heading to train in Russia's Star City.

A Canadian first

For Hadfield, the road to the commander's chair is a process that started when he was a boy: "Canada has invested an awful lot in me, since I was an Air Cadet taking a Junior Leader's course in Trenton, Ontario in the summer of 1974," said Hadfield.

"So this is payback," he added, smiling.

Hadfield's upcoming "Expedition 35" mission will be the first time a Canadian has served as commander of a space mission -- station, shuttle, or otherwise -- and only the second time a non-American/Russian has been in charge of the football-field-sized orbital outpost.

And just like the first Canadian in the final frontier, Hadfield won't be staying inside while his charges are out on "away missions" when he officially takes command in 2013.

Leading by example

Although this will be his third trip into space, Hadfield still has lots to learn.

"I spent an entire winter learning to fly the new version of the Soyuz [TMA] capsule," Hadfield said.

In addition to commanding the ISS, he will serve as co-pilot in the cramped Russian-built capsule that serves as both ferry and emergency-escape craft for the six-person crew.

Hadfield will also lead the two or three spacewalks during the mission, working inside a spacesuit in the blackness of space, with the "outrageously, powerfully, visually-compelling textures and colours of our world roaring by at 8 km/second& ... It's an amazing place to work."

In 2001, Hadfield made history by becoming the first Canadian to embark on a spacewalk, helping install Canadarm2 during two sojourns outside the ISS.

The mission

The work of constructing the station should be over by the time Hadfield takes command however, since its final module -- the Russian Nauka lab -- is due to be installed several months earlier.

Instead, Hadfield said the focus will be on ensuring the more than 100 experiments being conducted in the unique gravity-free environment can continue.

"That's our main job while we're up there," said Hadfield: "To be the lab tech and building superintendant and visiting repair people that keep all the experiments running," he said.

"We train all over the world for all the different types of experiments, including some Canadian ones up there."

Assuming Soyuz flights to the ISS continue until there is a replacement for the retired space shuttle, the space station could see its mission extended to 2015 and perhaps even to 2020.

The outpost may also be used to rehearse for, and perhaps even implement, trips to the Moon and beyond.

Recording session in space

While in-orbit, Hadfield -- an accomplished musician -- is planning on finishing writing and recording songs he's already started on Earth. The space album will include accompaniment from a guitar he brought up to the station years before, as well as an electric pick he's planning to take in 2012.

Music is so engrained, in fact, that Hadfield's uniform mission patch is actually in the shape of a guitar pick.

In addition to a busy work schedule, Hadfield says he's looking forward to producing an album influenced by the feelings he experiences floating high above the Earth.

Once referred to as "the first folk guitarist in space", Hadfield is poised to parlay two decades of shuttle launches, mission-control gigs, spacewalks, and international collaboration into the highest-altitude executive job in history.

"It will be deeply satisfying, personally and professionally," he said. "But it's also a door opening for Canadians that has never been opened before."