• Catherine Hansen (right), spouse of new astronaut Jeremy Hansen

    Catherine Hansen (right), spouse of new astronaut Jeremy Hansen (Photo: CPL. Mathieu St.-Amour, Canadian Forces Support Unit (Ottawa))

Jeremy and I have been married 11 years. We met in January 2002 in Moose Jaw, Sask. My brother was training to be a fighter pilot at the same time as Jeremy. I met Jeremy at my brother’s graduation ceremony.

When we met, I was an obstetrics and gynaecology resident at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., where I had completed my residency program in 2001. I had started a master degree in public health at Johns Hopkins University and was working through coursework as well as what they call “locum tenen” throughout Ontario, where I would cover other people’s OBGYN practices. When I moved out to Cold Lake, Alta. in 2002, I opened a practice and became the only OBGYN there. We stayed there for seven years.

Astronaut Training

Currently, Jeremy is based in Texas, but by no means spends all his time here. He’s had multiple training deployments, including to Russia, Japan and Canada. He’s in Canada almost every month, sometimes to Cold Lake, Alta. to continue training on the CF-18. Right now, he’s in Portage la Prairie, Man., close to Winnipeg, going through more flight training. He’s done cave training in Sardinia, Italy and geology expeditions in the Arctic. He spends a lot of his time away, having fun experiences.

Supporting an astronaut

There are definite challenges, and this environment feels quite different than the military. In Cold Lake, we were surrounded by people who were also in the squadron. When the squadron deployed, the spouses and families were very close together and supportive of each other.

Now, it’s very different. Here, people are going up to space, and never at the same time. People are affected by that “relocation” to lower Earth orbit at different times. It’s not a group environment where everybody’s going through the same thing at the same time. The spouses are very supportive, and that network is always available, but it’s so different from squadron life. We’re not together very often. We can help one another by talking about things, but we don’t necessarily go through it the same way. We don’t call each other up like we did when the pilots – our partners – were away.  

In terms of a Canadian astronaut group, right now, there doesn’t seem to be many of us left. We’re definitely there to help each other, but it’s not that same level of on-site all-the-time support. I feel like in the last five years, I’ve had to learn to be an astronaut spouse. The children have grown, and the challenges have changed. Now, they’re much more independent rational little beings, and we can talk to them about when Jeremy’s away and how things will be different than when he’s home. That’s made life a lot easier for me than when they were preschoolers and it was hard for them to understand.

The vast majority of childcare falls to the spouse, and that would be the same whether I was male or female, because astronaut training is so intensive. Despite the fact that I have a very high maintenance job, I still have to be the one to be flexible. I’ve set my life up so I can be there for the children when he’s not, because his training requires him to be away. There are going to be more travel deployments as he gets closer to a mission assignment.

Space Mission

Jeremy is a very family-oriented person, and everything we do with our family helps create that security and bonding. When he’s home — which maybe isn’t as much as we would like — he’s there for all of us, especially the kids. I think in part he’s doing that as a way of preparing them for when he’s gone for six months at a time on the space station, which hopefully he will be at some point. That’s his dream. The kids will be prepared and know their father loves them and is coming back.

It’s just as important for us to support him because he’s the one who’s leaving home, and it may be harder on him than it on us to be away. We all understand that, and we’re preparing for it.

What concerns me is making sure our family is ready for Jeremy to be gone that long. It’s interesting, because we have a friend on the International Space Station right now — NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman — and we get occasional emails and other communications from him. The other day, it occurred to me that, for a moment, I’d forgotten he was on the space station!

They’re going away, living their dream, but life carries on at home, and we just have to continue doing the things that are normal routine.

Readjustment to Earth

It’s good and bad that I’m a medical doctor. There will be some specific medical concerns and questions that I will raise or identify sooner than the average person, and I may be more inquisitive about the specifics of the after-effects of having been in space, being cautious about preventing any ongoing issues and making sure that he’s readapting at appropriate milestones. I may worry a little more than somebody who doesn’t have the medical background, but I’ll also hopefully be able to help him too.

Advice for perspective astronauts and their partners

Jeremy becoming an astronaut was one of the most challenging things that could have happened to us, but also one of the most rewarding. I think I’m the type of person who, when faced by a great challenge, gets overwhelmed by it. But then I get beyond that and realize looking back that maybe I should have just enjoyed that part of the journey. My advice to others would be to realize that while it seems like it will be amazing, it’s not going to be. But the greater journey is worth it. It’s an amazing, rewarding ride and it’s going to get better. I’m not totally relaxed — Jeremy would never call me a relaxed person – but I’ve learned to relax over some of the hurdles that we encounter, and try harder to take things in stride. The end result is that dream.