Astronaut Chris Hadfield guarded $5 polymer note before space debut
Astronaut Chris Hadfield poses for a photo with a new polymer $5 bank note aboard the International Space Station. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
What does it take to hold a "surprise" public relations event from space?
Well, astronaut Chris Hadfield’s live video appearance from space during the unveiling of Canada's new $5 polymer note — brand-new bill in hand — last April was the result of more than a year’s worth of extensive and careful planning between the Canadian Space Agency and the Bank of Canada.
Representatives from the two departments met as early as February 2012 to discuss plans for “on-orbit outreach activities and an unveiling event,” according to documents obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.
"We are very excited and think this extends our original plan," read one email written in French. And, the documents reveal, organizers were thrilled to take on the task.
Hadfield was a natural choice for an event to showcase the new bill, which depicted the Canadian-built Canadarm2 that Hadfield himself had helped install aboard the International Space Station in 2001.
But there were logistics to consider. Lots of logistics.
First: how and when the Bank of Canada would hand over the $5 banknote to Hadfield, who was scheduled to depart for the ISS in December 2012, months ahead of the banknote's official unveiling.
The documents also reveal the steps taken to ensure one important detail: that Hadfield was even allowed to take a banknote to space.
Monetary currency cannot normally be part of the Official Flight Kit. A document had to be signed by the Bank of Canada’s Chief of Currency Gerry Gaetz, certifying the flown note will not be sold or used for fundraising purposes. NASA approved the flight kit once it received that reassurance.
And because the bill was being taken into space months before making its debut, Bank of Canada representatives were keen to keep it all hush-hush.
They drew up a contract precisely detailing how the banknote was to be safeguarded: the $5 note was to be under the control of Chris Hadfield at all times, and when it was not in use, it — along with all information relating to it — had to be secured in a locked safe.
On Oct. 4, 2012, Bank representatives dutifully arrived at the Canadian Space Agency — contract in hand — to present the banknote to Hadfield. He launched into space on Dec. 19.
'VIP really wants a live event with Chris'
Hadfield eventually appeared live via satellite at the event that included Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and then-governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney.
The original plan was only to air a pre-recorded video, but an internal email sent to Canadian Space Agency staff dated March 7, 2013 — just under two months before the unveiling — reveals a major change to the plan. Someone at the bank wanted to beam Hadfield in live, which added to the overall cost of the event.
“The BoC VIP really wants a LIVE event with Chris,” reads an email from a CSA employee.
The documents included brief consideration of the potential risk involved with the satellite downlink, due to a spacecraft launch to the ISS that was taking place around the same time. But five days later, the space agency appeared to have worked out the kinks, according to an email to the bank.
And, for maximum effect, it would all be kept a surprise.
"For the media advisory," reads an email from the bank in French, "we will not announce the participation of Chris."
Planning ramped up as the event drew closer, with a flurry of emails, draft scripts and contingency plans should things go awry with the connection to space.
But the big day came and the event itself went off mostly without a hitch, though the finance minister finished his speech early and had to bide some time before the connection with Hadfield went live.
21st century space-age bill
The highly-scripted event, which included three contingencies in case the satellite link went awry, cost just over $13,000 for audiovisual services, including $9,055.44 for the call to Earth.
The CSA hired TV2Go, a satellite transmission company based in Toronto. The $9,055.44 charge also included return flights from Toronto to Ottawa, hotel rooms and taxis for two technicians.
The costs, however, may be justified, according a political strategist.
"When was the last time you remember the unveiling of a new bill?" asks political strategist Yaroslav Baran.
Baran, a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, says the event aligned thematically with the new bill — the shift from paper to polymer, the high-tech measure against counterfeiting, among other things.
“It’s the 21st century space-age bill,” he says.
And it certainly got the Bank of Canada some attention, said Baran.The event signalled to the rest of the world that the bank is hip, innovative and worthy of “a second look.”
“Central banks have button-down, conservative branding about them — and this broke that mould.”
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