March 4, 2019 6:00 am
Updated: March 4, 2019 11:43 am

Russia Rising, part 6: Private space race has power to change ‘the whole landscape,’ says Chris Hadfield

Mon., Dec. 10: Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques says he's slowly adjusting to life in space since taking off for the International Space Agency last week. Global's Phil Carpenter explains.

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On the sixth episode of Russia Rising, we’ll boldly go where no podcast has gone before.

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The International Space Station has long been heralded as a beacon of geopolitical co-operation, where representatives from 18 countries have lived and worked together, trusting each other with their lives. And all of them, including Canada and the United States, rely on Russia to hitch a ride to the stars.

READ MORE: Canada joins NASA-led moon mission, dubbed ‘Lunar Gateway’

But that close, interconnected relationship is now being tested as space becomes increasingly militarized and privatized. The White House is calling for the establishment of a “Space Force” within the U.S. military to counter what it says are growing threats from China and Russia. And billionaires Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have launched private companies to ferry supplies and even paying customers to the cosmos.

In this image from video made available by Blue Origin, the New Shepard capsule lands at the company’s site in west Texas. Jeff Bezos’ rocket company launched NASA experiments into space on the brief test flight. (Blue Origin via AP)

But should we believe the hype? Are we really on the cusp of a new space race? To find out what the future of space travel really looks like, we’ll ask the spacemen and spacewomen who’ve been there and back.

We’ll take a rare tour of Star City, the once-top-secret cosmonaut training facility on the outskirts of Moscow. That’s where we find Canada’s newest spaceman, David Saint-Jacques, preparing to spend six months aboard the International Space Station.

David Saint-Jacques is pictured inside the world’s largest centrifuge to prepare him for the impact of acceleration.

Jeff Semple/Global News

Saint-Jacques distinctly remembers being six years old and seeing his first photograph of the earth taken from space.

“I can’t remember not fantasizing about it,” he says. And Saint-Jacques says he often reflects on the power that space exploration has to transcend politics and global conflicts.

“There’s something innate to the space world that makes us take a couple of steps back,” he says. “It’s in your face. 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.”

WATCH: Canadian astronaut talks about transcending geopolitics

We’ll meet Saint-Jacques’ crewmates aboard the Soyuz rocket: American astronaut Anne McClain and their Russian commander, Oleg Kononenko.

“No matter what’s happening in the political arena, in the space industry we are co-operating, achieving goals together,” Kononenko says.

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques alongside Russian commander Oleg Kononenko and American Anne McClain. The three are pictured during training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Moscow, Oblast, Russia.

Jeff Semple/Global News

And who better to ask about the future of space exploration than a man who’s spent his career making history in space? Chris Hadfield has flown two space shuttle missions and served as the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station.

During his stint aboard the ISS in 2012, Hadfield became famous for using social media to provide a new window into life in space.

READ MORE: Chris Hadfield to take stage in Kitchener as part of David Bowie celebration

Hadfield brushes off suggestions that space is becoming increasingly weaponized, noting that the U.S. military has long had a huge presence in orbit.

“There’s lots of rhetoric going on right now. I’ve been in the business long enough. I mean, I used to intercept Soviet bombers off the coast of North America as a fighter pilot with NORAD,” says Hadfield. “I have sort of a long view. I take any sort of panicky CNN Situation Room reporting with a grain of salt.”

What is new to the space world, he says, is the role that private companies are now playing. NASA is paying billions of dollars a year to private companies to carry satellites into space, ferry scientific instruments to the moon and deliver supplies to the International Space Station. And 2019 is widely expected to break new ground for space tourism, with private companies — such as Bezos’ Blue Origin and Branson’s Virgin Galactic — poised to start sending paying customers into space.

WATCH: Russian rocket failure strands astronauts on ISS ‘indefinitely’ — Chris Hadfield

“That’s a big change,” Hadfield says. “The space industry is in great transition because of improvements in technology right now. If only governments can afford to build the vehicles that allow access to something, then that really defines the whole industry and also sort of the philosophy of it. If the technology gets good enough that the cost of access comes down to businesses or even private individuals, then it changes the whole landscape. And that’s where we are in space access right now.”

Contact:

Twitter: @JeffSempleGN

Email: RussiaRising@Curiouscast.ca

Guests:

David Saint-Jacques — Canadian astronaut
@Astro_DavidS

Doug Wheelock — NASA astronaut
@Astro_Wheels

Chris Hadfield — Former Canadian astronaut
@Cmdr_Hadfield

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