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Somehow, Canada's Newest Spacebound Astronaut Seems Overqualified

David Saint-Jacques is a medical doctor, engineer and astrophysicist.
May 16, 2016, 3:34pm
David Saint-Jacques in the Soyuz simulator. Image: Canadian Space Agency

David Saint-Jacques, a medical doctor, engineer and astrophysicist, will be the next Canadian in space. In November 2018, he'll blast off aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, spending six months on the International Space Station, according to an announcement Monday at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.

Saint-Jacques, who comes from Saint-Lambert, Quebec, will be the ninth Canadian in space, and the first since Chris Hadfield commanded the ISS (he came back home in 2013). The Quebec doctor was chosen as an astronaut in 2009, along with Jeremy Hansen, a former fighter pilot from London, Ontario.

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As a triple threat, Saint-Jacques will be able to do all kinds of experiments and exercises in space, although the specifics haven't yet been announced.

"The doctor in me is eager to conduct experiments and experience first-hand the effects of microgravity on my body, the engineer in me is eager to operate Canadarm2, the astrophysicist in me is eager to look at the stars while floating in my space suit, and of course, the adventurer in me, he's just eager," he told the crowd of school kids and media gathered inside a theatre at the museum for the announcement, with swooping airplanes just outside.

Saint-Jacques said that he was elated when he learned he was going to the ISS. "To me, it's great to continue on that amazing legacy we've built over decades."

On the ISS, between experiments and other duties, Saint-Jacques will take part in the day-to-day operation of the station. He might even make a spacewalk to perform a repair, or help capture a resupply mission sent from Earth with the Canadarm2.

"It's a big prototype keeping you alive," said Saint-Jacques of the ISS.

Under the previous government of Stephen Harper, Canada's mission to the ISS was extended to 2024, which helped secure a spot for Saint-Jacques and, hopefully, for Hansen later on. The new Liberal budget allocated $379 million over eight years to the support of the Canadian Space Agency's mission on the ISS, up to 2024.

Hansen still doesn't have a flight date. He was supportive that Saint-Jacques is heading to space, tweeting out his congrats.

Like Hadfield before him, Saint-Jacques hopes to share his experience in space through social media. He also sees the growing role of the private space industry becoming a bigger and bigger factor in space travel. He said he was envious of Hansen, who might eventually have the opportunity to fly "super modern capsules."

"By the time the next Canadian mission is announced, there's a good chance that it might be on SpaceX or a Boeing spacecraft," said Saint-Jacques.