9 years training, 6 months in orbit: meet Canada’s next astronaut

David Saint-Jaques will be the first Canadian in orbit since Chris Hadfield commanded the International Space Station. Canadian Space Agency

Another Canadian is preparing to boldly go where few men and women have gone before.

Astronaut David Saint-Jaques is in the final phases of training to be the next Canadian to blast off into orbit, and on Tuesday, joined CKNW’s The Jon McComb Show to explain exactly what he’ll be doing on his six-month mission.

LISTEN: Meet the next Canadian to head into space

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In a little more than seven months, Quebec native Saint-Jaques will finally realize a lifelong dream by climbing atop a Russian Soyuz rocket and blasting more than 400 kilometres above the earth’s surface.

Aboard the International Space Station (ISS), Saint-Jaques will conduct a series of scientific experiments, test new technology and direct robotics tasks.

He’s been training nine years for the job. That involved two years of basic training when he was first selected as an astronaut nearly a decade ago, followed by stints in Mission Control where he supported other missions, including that of Canada’s last astronaut and former ISS Commander Chris Hadfield.

“That also contributes to your training because you get to know how the sausage is made, so to speak,” said Saint-Jaques of his Mission Control communications work.

Now, he’s a year-and-a-half into his final round of training, which will wrap shortly before he takes his co-pilot job on the Soyuz.

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In this final phase of preparation, Saint-Jaques said his training has focused on a number of specialized tasks.

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Chief among those is how to properly operate one of the iconic puffy white space suits that Saint-Jaques characterizes as “a miniature spacecraft in the shape of a human body.”

“We imagine astronauts wear [them] all the time, that’s not true. We wear it very, very, very rarely on very crucial occasions, very dangerous tasks, out there in the vacuum of space.”
Canadian Space Agency

Mastering the suits takes a high degree of specialized training, Saint-Jaques said, to ensure nothing goes wrong in an environment with zero room for error.

“We don’t really tolerate rookie mistakes in orbit, you’ve got to be ready. You do your mistakes in training on the ground.”

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Along with space suit training, Saint-Jaques said he’s being drilled on the operation of Canada’s most famous contribution to the international space effort, the Canadarm.

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The robotic appendage plays a crucial role on the ISS, helping to install new station components and to grab resupply cargo vessels as they approach.

“That’s a very critical part of operations, how to operate that Canadian arm flawlessly,” he said.

The other major component of training, Saint-Jaques said, is learning emergency procedures for the station such as how to put out fires, handle rapid decompression and repair critical systems.

Along with the technical training, Saint-Jaques said he’s also had to mentally prepare himself — and negotiate the stress that such a major mission can put on his relationship with his wife and kids.

“How do we make sure this great adventure that’s totally worthwhile doesn’t wreck us, minimize the cost of it to our family, to our relationship to our children, how to turn it around, and make it into something positive,” he said.

Saint-Jaques is scheduled to blast off in November 2018 on Expedition 58/59.