CSA astronaut David Saint-Jacques says he ‘never came back from space’

Tells Montreal planetarium audience lunar tourism is coming, but not telescopes on the moon

What was the most startling thing Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques ever saw while on a mission?

For Saint-Jacques, who served as a flight engineer on the International Space Station in 2018 and 2019, the most striking recollection was the first time he saw Earth from space.

“Your mind is not ready for that,” he told a gathering of children and parents on May 7 during a presentation on Canada’s role in lunar exploration at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium during its AstroFest.

Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques told an audience of children and parents at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium in Montreal on May 7 that Canada will be playing an important role in upcoming international space ventures involving travel to the Moon and someday perhaps also to Mars. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

Stunned by earth view

“You think you are, because you see it on posters all the time. But the blue of the atmosphere, in the middle of the darkness the pure blackness of space. It really took me like, I don’t know, two weeks maybe for my mind to accept that I was looking at the whole world.”

Although Saint-Jacques has a professional background in medicine and engineering, he said something in the back of his mind kept kicking in to give him doubts that what he was seeing was real.

“It must be in some studio, I don’t know where this is, it doesn’t make sense, this cannot be, this cannot be true,” he recalled thinking half-seriously, while imagining that some special effects wizardry had been used to deceive him.

“I knew, because I was an engineer, what I was looking at. But it took weeks before it could sink in. That was very odd. And now, that sight: When I close my eyes that’s what I see.

CSA Astronaut David Saint-Jacques went on a mission to the International Space Station (pictured) in 2018 and 2019. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

A sight he can’t forget

“It cannot leave me and I know that I’m still there. You know, I never came back from space. Guess what? We are in space. Are we in Montreal? In Quebec? In Canada? In North America? On Earth? We’re in space. All of the above. Space is around us.”

According to a biography from the CSA, David Saint-Jacques was born on Jan. 6, 1970, in Quebec City and raised in Saint-Lambert on Montreal’s South Shore. He is married and has three children and is a lifelong mountaineer, cyclist, skier, rower and avid sailor.

Saint-Jacques was selected in May 2009 by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and moved to Houston, Texas to be one of 14 members of the 20th NASA astronaut class.

Extensive space experience

In May 2016, the Canadian government announced that Saint-Jacques had been assigned to Expedition 58/59. From August 2016 to December 2018, he trained in Canada, Russia, the United States, Europe and Japan, where he honed his skills and knowledge on the ISS, the Soyuz spacecraft, and a variety of mission-specific tasks.

On December 3 2018, he flew to the International Space Station for a 204-day mission, the longest Canadian space mission to date. Between December 3, 2018, and June 24, 2019, he circled the globe 3,264 times and covered a distance of 139,096,495 kilometres.

‘It cannot leave me and I know that I’m still there,’ Saint-Jacques says about the impact that being in space had on him

During his mission, Saint-Jacques conducted Canadian and international science experiments and technology demonstrations, and supported critical operations and maintenance activities. He became the fourth CSA astronaut to conduct a spacewalk and the first CSA astronaut to use Canadarm2 to catch a visiting spacecraft.

Lunar tourism coming

Among other things that came up during Saint-Jacques’ planetarium presentation on the role Canada will be playing in future space missions was the question of whether “lunar tourism” could soon become a viable thing.

“I mean, people will go see the moon up close, yes,” said Saint-Jacques, answering a question from a web-connected participant who was in Calgary.

CSA Astronaut David Saint-Jacques’ presentation was part of the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium’s recent Astrofest event.

“Live on the moon? I don’t know about that. I think it will be a kind of a very austere place for while, like our base in Antarctica. We’ve been there for decades in Antarctica. And some people go over there – as tourists you can go there. But that’s another step. But there will be tourists going near the moon. I think that will happen pretty soon.”

Telescopes on the moon

Another interesting question that came up was why celestial observation telescopes have never been set up on the moon, in spite of six NASA lunar missions which succeeded in landing astronauts on the moon. According to Saint-Jacques, there were plans at one point to station telescopes on the moon.

However, “it’s just not a very good place to put telescopes,” he added. “You’d think it’s good because there’s no atmosphere, so there’s no shimmering. But it’s like one solid rock that’s constantly vibrating because it’s being hit by meteorites, so there’s like a hum.

It’s like standing next to a highway,” he continued. “And because of that, there’s always a layer of dust floating everywhere. So, it’s not a good place to put telescopes for that reason. But you could have telescopes in orbit around the moon.”