The great space race

Canada has made memorable contributions to space exploration, from the technology in Canadarm to the popularity of Chris Hadfield’s music video.

Canada’s two most recently-appointed astronauts learned of even more surprising examples today. Each led a team of space enthusiasts on a race through different space organizations across Toronto.

Astronaut Jeremy Hansen, a CF18 fighter pilot, leads the blue team, starting with questions to answer at the International Astronautical Congress.

Astronaut David Saint-Jacques, a medical doctor, leads the yellow team: “I learned a couple interesting nuggets. Canada invented the G-suit. I didn’t know that. Did you know that?”

The next stop, a national defence research facility. This is where human guinea pigs provide data on what happens to your body during an extreme obstacle course.

The team members applied through Twitter. Sheila Whelan teaches space medicine physiology at McMaster. She’s always talking to students about these two astronauts; now she has more fodder: “I have learned a lot of their passion, why they got selected. It was really a long, one year process when they were selected. The training they’ve done, learning Russian, Soyuz simulations, Nemo 33, cave training.”

The next stop for team yellow is Optech — a laser company that helped make a very Canadian discovery — snow on Mars. And after he successfully redirects a laser beam to a target, Saint-Jacques is given a bottle of maple syrup: “I’ll pour it on Martian snow.”

Finally, the Ontario Science Centre. The teams have to design a way to drop a can, solar panels up, onto a target, without setting off the mousetrap inside.

Astronauts have to be calm under pressure, everyone knows that. But they also have to be able to work in teams, and be creative and resourceful in their use of materials.

Jeremy Hansen: “We’re always looking at how we’re going to get down to other planetary surfaces and maybe utilize those resources.”

Canada has only recruited 12 astronauts since 1983 — these two, named in 2009, are the most recent. But Jeremy Hansen says commercialization is changing that: “There’s a company looking at making inflatable hotels in space. When you see these things you realize a shift is happening. It’s going to mean many more jobs and opportunities.”

He says Canada is a lot more involved in the space race than people realize.


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