Adjunct Professor becomes fourth McGillian aboard the International Space Station
By Neale McDevitt, McGill Reporter
Yesterday, astronaut David Saint-Jacques went to a very exclusive club when the Russian Soyuz MS-11 rocket carries him and two crewmen docked with the International Space Station (ISS). Saint-Jacques became just the 234th person – and the fourth member of the McGill community – aboard the ISS, the giant liquid lab that revolves around 408 kilometers across the globe.
It will not be the first time that Saint-Jacques has worked in a distant destination. The native of Saint-Lambert completed his family medicine home at McGill 2007, focusing on first-hand medical practice.
He took that training after graduation, when he served as a medical director at Inuulitsivik Health Center in Puvirnituq, Nunavik, an Inuit society on Hudson Bay. An adjunct professor of family medicine at McGill, he also worked as a clinical faculty teacher at the Faculty of Medicine, who supervised medical practitioners in Nunavik.
"That experience proved to be an excellent preparation for my astronaut career," he said in a new video from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. "In a remote environment with limited resources, teamwork and creativity are crucial. This cooperative spirit earns me every day."
But Saint-Jacques says that the lessons learned north go even deeper than that. "As in the field of space exploration, everyone is enthusiastically dedicated to their work: first respondents, doctors, nurses, air force pilots," he said. "You learn to work together and trust each other, to the point you do not hesitate to put your life in your colleagues' hands."
Looking for discovery and adventure
Even with astronaut standards, the 48-year-old Saint-Jacques is incredibly complete. He holds a Master of Science in Engineering Physics; and doctoral student in astrophysics; and a medical degree. Saint-Jacques has a commercial pilot license with several engines and instrument ratings. He is fully trained as a Soyuz co-pilot, robot operator and space detector. Fluent in French and English, he can also speak in Russian, Spanish and Japanese.
"To understand: This is my main motivation," he says on his biographical side of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). "This basic need has governed my academic and career path. I've always wanted to get to the bottom of things and go beyond books and theories. I'm naturally curious and drawn by discovery and adventure."
After being assigned to Expedition 58 in May 2016, Saint-Jacques has been in intensive training in Canada, Russia, USA, Europe and Japan for the past two years, demonstrating his expertise and knowledge of ISS, Soyuz spacecraft and a variety of mission-specific tasks . Earlier this summer, Saint-Jacques McGill's Steinberg Center for Simulation and Interactive Learning visited to update his knowledge of Advanced Trauma Life Support.
How does the microwaves affect the body?
In the next six months, Saint-Jacques will carry out a number of science experiments, which make a major use. Saint-Jacques will monitor the effects of space on everything from bone density to ocular pressure. Trying to develop new programs to keep the astronauts healthy in space helps the experiments also determine the best ways to physically prepare astronauts for a potential mission to Mars.
Saint-Jacques hopes back to his days in Nunavik and hopes to optimize remote care, see how to improve telemedicine, what he calls "the art of providing care when the patient is far from a doctor".
"Of course, telemedicine for astronauts is heading to a distant destination, but it also applies to the land of people living in rural communities far from city centers," said Saint-Jacques during his latest press conference via video cable just three days before launch. "I know from personal experience that everything developed for remote medicine in space can be applied to the ground."
McGill at ISS
Each astronaut may bring a small suitcase of personal belongings to the ISS. Together with his wedding ring and other personal memorials, Saint-Jacques has packed a McGill weapon.
The McGill presence is strong on board the ISS, with Saint-Jacques following the zero gravity of three other McGill-high flyers, including governor generals Julie Payette, Robert Thirsk and Dafydd "Dave" Williams.
The McGill space tradition can be continued with Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons an engineering degree that became astronaut in 2017. Compilation Monday's CSA launch arrangement with Robert Thirsk, Sidey-Gibbins, could hardly contain her excitement when the Soyuz rocket managed to achieve a orbit.
"We all know David very well at the Canadian Space Agency, and for anyone who follows his trip, that's something he's been working for for years," said Sidey-Gibbons, who laughs big. "To see him finally reach that dream is … wonderful."
The event ended with a pre-recorded message from a grateful Saint-Jacques to CSA staff. "You've taken this moment and now I'll carry you the rest of the way," he said. "Space exploration takes enormous teamwork and I am grateful for the thousands of men and women's efforts in Canada and around the world who have worked behind the scenes to ensure the success of this mission.
"It's their talent and effort – your talent and effort – who made this mission possible … You gave the best of you to make this mission a reality and I am both grateful and proud to be your representative," said he. "Today I will achieve an old dream and I will also carry your dreams with me.
"I hope the Canadian Space Agency and I through this mission can kick curiosity and interest in young Canadians and inspire them to be the next generation of discoverers."
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December 7, 2018