When Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield blasted off for a five-month stay on the International Space Station in December 2012, his Twitter following skyrocketed.
"We had a million pretty much by the time we settled back on Earth," Hadfield said about his followers. "All I was really saying is I'm a fellow human being doing something very unusual, and you are welcome to come along and look if you like."
And they did. Through the snapshots he Tweeted and YouTube videos he posted, exploring everything from making a sandwich in space to crying in zero gravity, Hadfield provided new views of life from space with a remarkable accessibility.
But it was his cover performanceof David Bowie's "Space Oddity," done at his son's suggestion, that launched his popularity into a new orbit. The video's been downloaded from YouTube more than 26 million times.
"I could hear how the environment, much to my surprise, had crept into how I had interpreted the song," Hadfield said. "It is human culture; it's no longer just a probe. It is an extension of where we live, of who we are. We are starting to see the world differently."
It's not like Hadfield was unknown before the video went viral. He was the first Canadian to walk in space, and he's on the back of the Canadian five dollar bill. But his new-found fame is broadening his capacity to inspire.
"I think social media allows access where you can look through the eyes of the explorer," says Hadfield. "To get insight into what it's like to be right on the edge of the human existence, I think that is kind of what people are celebrating.
On Friday, October 9th, Chris Hadfield will release an album of 12 songs written and recorded in space. Hollywood may keep churning out space adventures, and real life news from Mars will always make headlines, but it's a 53-year-old retired Canadian astronaut who's leaving a new generation positively star-struck.