By IVAN SEMENIUK
Tuesday, December 4, 2018
LONGUEUIL, QUE. -- Canada's newest celestial traveller, David SaintJacques, greeted fellow astronauts and waved to everyone back on Earth as he took up residence on the International Space Station on Monday, fulfilling a childhood dream to go to space.
Easy to spot with a bold maple leaf design emblazoned across his jumpsuit, the Quebec-born astrophysicist and physician floated through the hatch of his MS-11 Soyuz capsule at about 2:37 p.m. ET, a little more than eight hours after he and two crewmates lifted off from the Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan.
"You are representatives of the world's future," said Governor-General and former astronaut Julie Payette, who was at the launch and who was first to welcome the new arrivals during a radio call with Earth.
A few minutes later, while speaking with his wife, Véronique Morin, for the first time since reaching the station, Dr. Saint-Jacques said the experience had left him at a loss for words.
"I'm astonished by what I've seen," he said in French as the station sailed 409 kilometres above the Arabian Sea.
He added: "I know you're all there with me in my heart."
Dr. Saint-Jacques's safe arrival at the Earth-orbiting facility, together with veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and U.S. astronaut Anne McClain, was just one part of an action-packed day for Canada's space program.
At 12:09 p.m. ET on Monday, an unmanned U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) probe called OSIRIS-REx officially reached its destination: a small asteroid named Bennu, currently located about 122 million kilometres from Earth.
OSIRIS-REx carries a Canadian-built lidar - a measuring tool that will use laser light to scan the asteroid's boulder-strewn surface and help guide the spacecraft in its efforts to capture a sample to bring back to Earth. The device is Canada's first technical contribution to planetary exploration in more than six years.
After a public viewing of Dr. SaintJacques's launch at the Canadian Space Agency's headquarters near Montreal, Navdeep Bains, federal Minister for Industry, Science and Economic Development, praised Canada's history and capabilities in space. But Mr. Bains did not take the obvious opportunity to offer any words on the future of Canada's space program.
Canadian scientists and companies who are active in the space sector have been urging Ottawa for more than a year to produce a coherent strategy and accompanying budget for the space program that would revitalize the sector and aid in long-term planning.
On Monday, Mr. Bains would only reiterate his pledge to produce the strategy in "the coming months."
Canada faces a more pressing timetable when it comes to whether it will join international partners in the next phase of human space exploration - a remote outpost called the Lunar Gateway that NASA aims to place in orbit around the moon.
NASA has lately been vocal in its overtures to Canada in hopes that the Trudeau government will join the project. While acknowledging the inspirational effect space exploration has on young people in science and engineering, Mr. Bains said that several other factors are feeding into Ottawa's deliberations.
Scenes of Dr. Saint-Jacques's eight-minute ascent to space captivated a packed auditorium of about 400 people, including agency staff, family members and media who had gathered for the predawn (local time) events.
"David is an astronaut now - he's in orbit," said Robert Thirsk, a former Canadian astronaut who was providing impromptu colour commentary, as the audience erupted in applause.
For the next few days, Dr.
Saint-Jacques and his crewmates will need to acclimatize to life in space as they commence their work aboard the station, including a raft of science experiments and other duties.
"If you look at his schedule right now, it's already jam packed," said Mathieu Caron, senior engineer for payload operations with the Canadian Space Agency.
The new arrivals are also preparing for an unusually quick hand-off when the station's current residents depart in less than three weeks.
The short overlap is the result of an aborted Soyuz launch in October, when two other crew members who were heading for the station were instead pitched back to Earth after a malfunction destroyed their rocket.
Monday's successful launch marks a crucial return to flight for the Soyuz system, which is currently the only vehicle capable of getting people to the station, at least until SpaceX and Boeing begin the first commercial crewed flights to the station in 2019.
Since Marc Garneau became the first Canadian in space just more than 35 years ago, the Canadian Space Agency has sent nine astronauts into orbit, including Dr. Saint-Jacques. In 2009, Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberté became Canada's first space tourist when he paid his own way to the station.
And earlier this year, Drew Feustel, a U.S. astronaut who holds Canadian citizenship made his third trip to space as commander aboard the station.
In contrast, Canada has been only a modest backer of robotic probes sent to other planets, although many Canadian scientists have contributed to the field through their individual connections with planetary missions flown by other countries.
The lidar on OSIRIS-REx is a notable exception. In exchange for Canada providing the device, Canadian scientists will have access to the asteroid material the probe brings back to Earth, giving them the chemical clues to the formation of the planet.
"What you have there is pristine material from the early solar system," said Erick Dupuis, director of space-exploration development for the space agency.
Michael Daly, who is a professor at York University in Toronto and principal investigator for OSIRIS-Rex lidar, said the Canadian instrument is scheduled to be used for the first time on the asteroid on Tuesday and then again on Thursday.
"We are really excited to finally be close enough to use the Canadian instrument," said Dr.
Daly, speaking with The Globe and Mail from the University of Arizona in Tucson, where the probe's science operations are based.
A Soyuz MS-11 rocket carrying David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, as well as Russian and American astronauts, takes off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Monday. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
From top: Expedition 58 flight engineer David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, flight engineer Anne McClain of NASA and Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos wave farewell prior to boarding their Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft for launch on Monday in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The trio will spend the next six months on board the International Space Station.