Astronaut David Saint-Jacques knows a thing or two about isolation.
A year ago, before the world was in pandemic lockdown, Saint-Jacques was mid-way through a 204-day mission on the International Space Station, in orbit around the earth with two other colleagues, American astronaut Anne McClain and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko.
Saint-Jacques says he enjoyed the experience, and even found it monastic and Zen-like.
“We did a lot experiments, a lot of maintenance tasks. But every day was like you are just trying to do the same thing a bit better,” he said. “Every day you wake up, here is your schedule, talk to the ground, talk to the scientists, talk to the engineers, the controllers, gather equipment, do an experiment, repair something that is broken, exercise, talk to your family, look at the earth, rinse and repeat, for months and months. And you get very good at it. It’s very gratifying, that experience.”
As well as being an astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency, the 50-year-old Quebec native is a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, a medical doctor, astrophysicist, engineer, licensed pilot, and married father of three children.
He says there were many memorable experiences during his mission, and recalls a funny detail about the moment they left Earth’s atmosphere and entered space, minutes after lifting off on board the Russian Soyuz launch craft.
“The Russians have this fun tradition: the crew brings stuffed animals,” he recalls. “I brought a stuffed raccoon that all my kids played with and this stuffed animal is hanging at the end of a string. So, as you’re riding the rocket up, the string is really taut. And when you reach orbit, it starts to float. It’s the lowest-tech-possible Zero-G indicator: a stuffed animal on string. High five! We made it to space.”