When Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques lifts off to the International Space Station in December, he won’t be going alone.
Saint-Jacques will co-pilot the Soyuz rocket alongside Russian commander Oleg Kononenko and American Anne McClain. The three have spent months training together at a space facility in Russia.
Their cosmonaut camaraderie stands in stark contrast to their countries’ diplomatic differences. Canada and the United States have levelled sanctions against many sectors of Russia’s economy, but Moscow’s multi-billion dollar space program has remained remarkably unscathed.
WATCH: Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques on training in Russia for space mission
“No matter what’s happening in the political arena, in the space industry we are co-operating and achieving goals together,” said Kononenko.
Since the Americans shuttered their space shuttle program in 2011, they’ve relied on the Russians to transport them to the International Space Station.
“Essentially, it’s this castle in the sky that we’ve built together,” said veteran American astronaut Doug Wheelock. “And it’s really a tribute to how the human spirit can overcome any kind of tensions.”
But Saint-Jacques’ mission comes at a time when the White House is calling for the creation of a military “space force,” to counter what it says are growing threats from China and Russia.
U.S. President Donald Trump recently warned that America’s “foreign competitors and adversaries have already begun weaponizing space,” and are fast developing technology to target American satellites.
“We can’t ignore politics and tensions,” said Saint-Jacques. But rather than shy away from the subject, Saint-Jacques hopes to make it part of his mission to use his extraterrestrial experience as a unifying force.
“When you see this one planet floating in the vacuum of space, you cannot help but feel like you are more than a Canadian, an American or a Russian. You are human. You’re an earthling. When we decide to work together and manage to find ways to work together despite the tensions, despite the differences, when we get over that and decide to work together on a common goal? Wow, it’s unbelievable what we can achieve.”
— With files from the Associated Press