September 12, 2014 8:03 pm
Updated: September 13, 2014 2:19 am

Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen tackles another frontier – the deep sea

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Watch the video above: Jeremy Hansen discusses why astronauts are training in the ocean, 19 metres below Earth’s surface.

TORONTO – Living in a strange environment is just a typical day for Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen.

Hansen is taking part in the 19th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), a seven-day underwater mission that is helping NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) learn about what it might be like to live and work on an asteroid or another planet.

The NEEMO19 crew. From left to right: Jeremy Hansen, Canadian Space Agency; Hervé Stevenin and Andreas Mogensen, European Space Agency; Randy Bresnik, NASA.

NASA/CSA

Being in an unusual Earthly environment is nothing new to Hansen. In September 2013, he participated in a six-day mission where he lived in a cave in Sardinia, Italy. Similarly, the mission involved training these astronauts to be on another celestial body.

READ MORE: Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen heads underground

Speaking with Global News from Aquarius, the undersea laboratory, Hansen said that though it may not be space, it’s still an extremely unfriendly environment.

The crew used this drill on Sept. 11 to simulate drilling on Mars.

NASA

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The six crewmembers are 19 metres beneath the ocean about 5.6 km off Key Largo in the Florida Keys. At this depth, a sudden rise to the surface could be deadly. In fact, it will take him 16 hours to decompress so that his body gets used to the difference in pressure.

“If you don’t take this place seriously, it’ll kill you.”

For Hansen, his role as the team’s exploration leader makes him responsible for understanding and preparing for extravehicular activities, or EVAs. These EVAs would, of course, occur in space.

Why underwater?

The gravity on other bodies in the solar system isn’t the same as here on Earth. On Mars, for example, the gravity is about 1/3 that of Earth’s. So underwater, the astronauts use weights and air pressure to simulate that gravity.

Jeremy Hansen buzzes the habitat window.

ESA/Andreas Mogensen

Thinking about the future of space travel, Hansen points to private companies as the next step.

“We see for the first time in history that commercial companies are building rockets. And in just a few years, we’re going to be launching people from U.S. soil on some of these commercial rockets,” he said.

“And I think that we can see the writing on the wall: it’s going to change everything.”

He also sees Canada continuing to play a role in exploring new worlds.

“When I look forward, I look to the 2020s, I think, wow it’s going to be an exciting time in space exploration. There are going to be many Canadians flying in space and doing some amazing things. And I hope to be a part of that. But for young Canadians it’s definitely going to be a part of their future and something they can look forward to.”

Mmm. Maple syrup. It doesn’t get more Canadian than that.  Jeremy Hansen got a surprise visit and a treat from diver Major Jonathan Knaul of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

CSA

As for his turn in space, Hansen is optimistic that he will fly within the decade.

“For now I keep training. I keep working in the space program, things I love to do. And I definitely have this light at the end of the tunnel thinking I’m going to fly in space some day, and that’s really exciting.”

“This job just gets better and better.”

Hansen starts his decompression to return to the surface on Saturday.

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