Canada’s David Saint-Jacques Gets Ready For Space in 2018
So far nine Canadians have been in space, eight astronauts and a private citizen, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté - the first professional artist in space. Dr. Saint-Jacques will be the ninth astronaut since Marc Garneau blasted off in 1984 on one of the then-new Space Shuttles.
Growing up in Quebec, David Saint-Jacques’ dad gave him a Rubik’s Cube for long road trips (it’s Canada - all road trips are long after all); what he remembers from that is how the popular puzzle was both a technical challenge and there being something artistic about the Cube’s design. It’s something that stuck with him - he plans to take it with him in 2018 when he travels to the International Space Station (ISS).
Growing up he says, “When I was a child, there were no Canadian astronauts so it wasn’t really an option.” So instead, he took on whatever physical and intellectual challenges came his way, including learning languages (French and English, as well as basic Russian, Spanish and Japanese) , mountaineering, saling and exploring that took him around the world. He has also studied and worked in France, Hungary, Lebanon and Guatemala. Along the way he studied engineering physics at École polytechnique in Montreal. From there he went to the UK on a scholarship to Cambridge University, earning a PhD in astrophysics. From there it was off to some of the world’s premier astronomical facilities in the Canary Islands, Hawaii and Tokyo.
Returning to Montreal, he joined the astrophysics group at and later entered medical school at the University of Montreal. After becoming a physician, he headed to the Inuit community of Puvirnituq in Quebec’s Nunavik region, homeland of the Inuit of Quebec. The town is near the mouth on the Hudson Bay in northern Quebec, Canada, with a population was 1,692 (2011). There he later became the co-chief of medicine at the Inuulitsivik Health Centre in Puvirnituq, Nunavik.
It was here that he draws similarities to keeping an isolated community healthy and space travel, “Remote-care medicine was my daily life up North and the problem of keeping astronauts healthy is the same problem”.
In 2008, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) put out an announcement in the media for about a month they where looking for astronauts. At the time he working as a doctory in Nunavik. A colleague barged into my office, “Hey, they’re recruiting astronauts, so you better apply.” By May 2009, he selected by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as one of two CSA astronaut positions (along with Jeremy Hansen), beating out 5,351 candidates. Training for Saint-Jacques, begins this summer in Canada, Russia, Japan and the United States.
He’s been living in Houston, Texas, since being selected as one of 14 members of the 20th NASA astronaut class and has since been assigned to the space agency’s robotics branch. However, the 46 year old’s two kids are more impressed with firemen than astronauts though, so he tells them part of his training involved putting out fires, that seems to impress them a bit more.
He’ll be the first Canadian to go into space since the guitar playing Chris Hadfield commanded the ISS a few years back in 2012. Doctor Saint-Jacques is due to fly in November 2018 aboard a Soyuz for a six month mission on the orbiting laboratory.