Montreal·Profile

Meet David Saint-Jacques, the next Canadian headed to space

Growing up in St-Lambert near Montreal, David Saint-Jacques can still remember the first time he got a good look at the stars, fuelling a life-long dream of becoming an astronaut. Now, he's preparing to fly to the International Space Station.

Quebec City native recalls being amazed by night sky as a young boy

David Saint-Jacques is seen here on glaciology expedition in the Kaskawulsh Glacier, Yukon, in 2015, to learn methods for conducting geological fieldwork that could be applied to future missions to Mars or other planets. (Canadian Space Agency)

Growing up in St-Lambert near Montreal, David Saint-Jacques can still remember the first time he got a good look at the stars, fuelling a life-long dream of becoming an astronaut. Now, he's preparing to fly to the International Space Station.

"I still have very, vivid images in my mind," he said during a sit-down interview with CBC's Quebec AM in 2014.

"The first time that I got to see a pure night sky, without pollution, as we call it — an unadulterated, perfect night sky — it was flabbergasting."

Thus spawned a lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut, an idea that stuck in the back of his mind as he earned degrees, learned languages and did work that helped propel him forward.

Now 46, Saint-Jacques will travel to the International Space Station in 2018 on a Russian Soyuz rocket, the Canadian Space Agency announced Monday.

Minister of Innovation Navdeep Bains announces that David Saint-Jacques will be heading to space in November 2018 to take part in a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station. 2:12

A life of adventure and discovery

Born in Quebec City and raised in St-Lambert on Montreal's South Shore, Saint-Jacques has a background in engineering, astrophysics and medicine.

During his studies, he completed:

  • a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Cambridge University.
  • an M.D. from Université Laval in Quebec City.
  • family medicine residency at McGill University.

As well, Saint-Jacques, who is married and has two children, is fluent in English and French and can also speak Russian, Spanish and Japanese, according to his Canadian Space Agency profile.

He is also a lifelong mountaineer, cyclist, skier and avid sailor, and holds a commercial pilot licence and advanced scuba-diving licence.

Saint-Jacques is seen here in the Soyuz simulator during a training session in Star City, Russia. (Canadian Space Agency)

Despite the laundry list of achievements, Saint-Jacques said becoming an astronaut was never the end goal, or part of "a practical plan."

"It was more of a guiding principle that in life I must try to understand as much as possible and at the same time lead a life of adventure and discovery," he said in the same Quebec AM interview.

"I remember deciding — well, you know, you've got to choose what kind of person you want to be in life. I decided, I'll try to be the same kind of person that I thought astronauts were. I thought, I'll stay fit, I'll travel and I'll go to university and I'll study and I'll just try to be a responsible person."

'The little boy in me'

Prior to joining the Canadian Space Program, Saint-Jacques most recently worked as a physician and the co-chief of medicine at a health centre in Puvirnituq, Nunavik, an Inuit community on Hudson Bay.

"I was actually pretty content with what I had found, working as a family physician up in the Arctic. It's a mixture of science and adventure and being socially useful," he said in the 2014 interview.

"I thought it was a good combination for me, and then I heard they were recruiting astronauts. I could hear the voice of the little boy in me, 'oh, please, please try. You've got to try.'"

Saint-Jacques prepares to be submerged in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center for spacewalk training. (NASA)

So he did.

In 2009, Saint-Jacques was selected by the Canadian Space Agency, along with 40-year-old Jeremy Hansen of London, Ont., to become astronauts from thousands of applicants.

He has continued training — and hoping for a space mission — ever since.

Part of a new generation of astronauts

Jeremy Hansen (right) and Saint-Jacques stand in the visitors' gallery after being recognized in the House of Commons in 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

On Monday, Navdeep Bains, the minister responsible for the Canadian Space Agency, confirmed Saint-Jacques will become the ninth Canadian astronaut in space.

Bains said Saint-Jacques is "part of a new generation of Canadian astronauts that will continue our nation's proud history in human space flight and prepare for exploration beyond the Space Station."

Saint-Jacques said he was humbled to represent Canada on the mission.

Saint-Jacques alongside Minister Navdeep Singh Bains earlier this month at the Canadian Space Agency. (Charles Contant/CBC)

"Today, I stand on the shoulders of all the astronauts who came before me. They inspired me — they were my role models," Saint-Jacques said Monday. 

"They sparked my curiosity about space and made me want to experience spaceflight for myself. Space exploration is the next step for humanity, and I am proud to be part of it."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said David Saint-Jacques grew up in Quebec City. In fact, he was born in Quebec City but grew up in St-Lambert near Montreal.
    May 16, 2016 4:04 PM ET