Saskatchewan-raised farm boy Jason Leuschen reaches for the stars, astronaut job

Royal Canadian Air Force student pilot Jason Leuschen, who grew up on a Saskatchewan farm, is trying to become an astronaut. Jason Leuschen / Supplied

Saskatchewan-raised Jason Leuschen, 39, is still in the running to be an astronaut and part of the next generation of space explorers.

He is one of 32 candidates vying to be selected by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in its 2017 astronaut selection process.

READ MORE: Mars rover example of University of Saskatchewan student experience fund

But how did a farm boy raised near Bruno, Sask., develop a desire to visit space?

“I got to meet Marc Garneau at a science fair when I was in Grade 7. He was Canada’s first astronaut, he’d already flown on the shuttle by then so I got the story firsthand … and it just sounded like the thing to do,” Leuschen said over the phone on Monday.

“Growing up … in Saskatchewan so often we’d be out snowmobiling in the dark in the winter and you get the amazing light show up above you. Quite often in the summer, my brother and I would watch meteor showers and in the winter you can get a good show from the northern lights.”

Story continues below advertisement
Photo taken by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly during his one-year mission on the International Space Station. Canadian Space Agency / Supplied

Originally chosen from a recruitment pool of over 3,700 people, Leuschen has gone through months of exams as well as physical and skills testing to see if he meets the demands of astronaut training and space flight.

READ MORE: New images of lightning from space could help make your next flight less turbulent

The mechanical engineer got his bachelor’s degree from the University of Saskatchewan in 2000 and moved to Ottawa to pursue work opportunities.

“I know my mechanical skills, my ability to improvise and things like that are very high. I have some weaknesses in other areas so I don’t really know how they’re going to weight things. I’m not going to worry about it, 39 years of development to get here, I am what I am, so hopefully it’s what they’re looking for,” Leuschen said.

Story continues below advertisement
Leuschen and other astronaut candidates during the first series of aptitude tests. Canadian Space Agency / Supplied

Simultaneously, he’s training to fly helicopters with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Leuschen said he’s no stranger to rigorously testing after going through the military selection process for pilots.

“What’s unique about myself as a candidate is the farm background. They haven’t told us exactly what we are doing but, in the next round of testing, it’s really going to come in handy, dealing with some of the situations that I’ve seen them throw at candidates in the past,” he said.

READ MORE: Saskatoon company contributes to successful comet landing

CSA is expected to make a final decision this summer.

Only two people will be selected as new members of the Canadian astronaut corps. In August, they will relocate to Houston, Texas, for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) basic training at the Johnson Space Center.

Story continues below advertisement

“It’s two years training to get your astronaut qualification first and then Canada’s kind of a small group of astronauts right now, it’s only two. So you have to be ready for whatever’s coming because you could be handed any type of mission coming down the line,” Leuschen said.

“The standard mission lately has been the International Space Station but the next two astronauts may have a chance to leave earth’s orbit, maybe go around the moon, go to the moon … there’s a lot of exciting things being talked about.”

Leuschen isn’t picky when it comes to mission objectives, saying “anything would be amazing.”

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield stands on the portable foot restraint (PFR) connected to Canadarm on Space Shuttle Endeavour during one of two spacewalks. Canadian Space Agency / Supplied

Sponsored content