Proud Montrealers watch as David Saint-Jacques launches into orbit

Thirty years before David Saint-Jacques launched into space, he was the brilliant quiet kid sitting at the back of Michelle Tournier's chemistry class.

Canadian Space Agency, Collège de Maisonneuve and Polytechnique celebrating with launch parties

Michelle Tournier taught astronaut David Saint-Jacques chemistry when he was a student at Collège de Maisonneuve. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Thirty years before David Saint-Jacques launched into space, he was the brilliant, quiet kid sitting at the back of Michelle Tournier's chemistry class.

Tournier returned to her former workplace early Monday to watch her old student's exploit at the Collège de Maisonneuve viewing party.

"David was a student who left a lasting impression — first, because he was exceptionally intelligent, but he also had a great presence," she said.

He never asked questions, Tournier said, because he didn't need to. When he had something specific to ask, he'd do so after class.

"He was someone who was very discreet. He never, ever did anything to get attention."

Saint-Jacques, along with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and American astronaut Anne McClain, took off at 6:31 a.m. ET in a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan en route to the International Space Station (ISS).

Saint-Jacques, 48, joined the Canadian Space Agency with degrees in medicine, engineering and astrophysics. He was a physician before becoming an astronaut.

He was born in Quebec City and raised in the Montreal suburb of Saint-Lambert.

Tournier said Saint-Jacques got 99 per cent on most of his exams and had "a great kindness and altruism."

Daria Cirnatiu and her two friends, who are in Maisonneuve's science, literature and arts program, were at the viewing party, too.

Valerie Rivest, Maya Kabli and Daria Cirnatiu watched Canadian astronaut and Montrealer David Saint-Jacques take off into space Monday morning. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

"It's inspiring to see that someone who's probably been in the same seat as I have accomplish so many things," said Cirnatiu, 18.

"And, you know, 30 years after he graduated from Maisonneuve, he went into space. It's never too late for your dreams. It's not because you're 45 or 50 that you can't accomplish more things."

'It's never too late for your dreams'

Tony Vuu is in his first semester at Maisonneuve, but dreams of one day studying planets for NASA.

"I couldn't miss it today. I haven't seen something this big, so I'm very excited to be here," Vuu said.

Matthew Skarpathiotakis, 6, was a bit sleepy but still very excited to watch the launch with his mom, who works at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Que. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

"It gives me a lot of hope that I could achieve something as big as him."

Saint-Jacques, Konenko and McClain will be in space for six months. Saint-Jacques has been tasked with conducting a series of scientific and technological experiments on the trip.

"The schedule aboard a space station is very busy. Every five-minute increment of our life is scheduled and that'll be the same for David also," Robert Thirsk, another astronaut, told the crowd at the Canadian Space Agency's launch party at its headquarters in Saint-Hubert, south of Montreal.

"The challenge for him will be to pace himself."

No aliens, says 6-year-old Matthew

Six-year-old Matthew Skarpathiotakis's mother works at the space agency, so he had a pretty good idea of what Saint-Jacques and his colleagues would be seeing out of the window.

"Planets and… Dextre!" he said. "They just have to look sideways and Dextre is connected to the space [station]."

Dextre is a dexterous Canadian two-armed robot attached to the International Space Station, along with the Canadarm2.

Matthew, clad in a bright blue space suit, said his favourite part of the launch was "the whole thing!"

He did not believe Saint-Jacques would see any aliens over the next six months, though.

Another viewing party was held at the Polytechnique engineering school in Montreal, where Saint-Jacques also went.

It's the first time a Canadian has been in space since 2013, when Chris Hadfield gained immense popularity around the world by providing glimpses into daily life on board the orbiting laboratory — and the occasional musical performance.

With files from CBC reporters Simon Nakonechny and Jaela Bernstien


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