With astronaut David Saint-Jacques scheduled to launch in the weeks to come, we look back at his CCCJ visit
Nine years: that’s the time it will have taken David Saint-Jacques to go into space after joining Canada’s team of two astronauts. Now aged 48 and set to be the 12th Canadian to go into space, Saint-Jacques will be leaving on a six-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in the weeks to come.
Saying that it took him only nine years may be a bit misleading, however, considering that he was accepted in the astronaut pro-gram at 37 after building an impressive resume that was key to getting him the job. Saint-Jacques earned an engineering degree from Polytechnique Montréal, worked in Paris as a programmer, completed a PhD in astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, operated a super telescope in Hawaii for the University of Tokyo, earned his MD at Laval University in Québec City, and served as a doctor both at a refugee camp in Lebanon and among Inuit communities in northern Québec.
According to an October 26 article on Space.com, Saint-Jacques said he finished his final training at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on October 24 and would be flying to Russia after that to complete his final training.
Saint-Jacques was in Japan in June 2016, when he spent two weeks at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in Tsukuba. There he learned how to operate the ISS’s largest experiment unit, the self-contained Japanese module Kibo and the H-II transfer vehicle. He took a few hours between training and climbing Mount Fuji to give Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan members and their families a presentation on his ad-ventures and upcoming mission to the ISS.
Saint-Jacques was clear about mankind’s long-term plans in space: “Our next goal is Mars.” And while for adults it does not seem plausible now, many of our kids could very well walk on the Red Planet in the not-so-distant future.
The key to achieving the level of autonomy which would allow us to make a return trip to Mars possible and permit us to truly begin space exploration is being able to recreate an Earth-like ecosystem aboard a space ship. That means being able to recycle air and water, and grow food. “This is the main thing I have realized since joining the astronaut program,” Saint-Jacques said, while showing the audience a beautiful image of Earth floating in space taken from the space station.
“Earth itself is a spaceship travelling across space,” he added, explaining that, like the ISS, water and air cannot be added to it. What is there is what we have, and we have to keep the natural system that recycles our air and water in good condition.
One of the many children in the audience asked what astronauts do in the station when they are not working or working out on one of the devices developed to train muscles in zero-gravity environments. “They look at the Earth,” Saint-Jacques replied.
From the ISS, the view of the planet is indeed breathtaking. Seen from space, northern lights, southern lights and thunder storms, rushing by at 8km a second — the speed required for the ISS to stay in orbit — present an amazing sight. So do the millions of lights visible at night, which trigger memories of friends and experiences while one passes over a familiar coastline, places visited or even one’s home town.
Today, and since November 2000, whenever you go knocking at one of the ISS’s four doors, there is always someone to welcome you. With Russian, English, French, Italian, German, English and Japanese spoken on board, the ISS is truly a multicultural environment. When in space, what an astronaut experiences first hand is the awareness that, while there are great differences among all of us, we are all from the same place.
Saint-Jacques admits that there are still a lot of politics and cultural differences in play when it comes to moving the space projects of multiple countries forward. Nevertheless, there is also a realization that “this” is bigger than any single individual or nation’s interest: it is an endeavour that defines the evolution of mankind.
The ISS is a very powerful symbol of what we can accomplish when we work together, and space exploration is, and will remain, one major driver of international collaboration for many years to come.