I was born and raised on a farm in southern Ontario near London, and I can’t recall a period in my life when I didn’t want to be an astronaut. For as long as I can remember, I was fascinated by space exploration. I looked at a photograph of Neil Armstrong standing on the Moon, and I wanted to see what it would be like to leave this planet, to look at it from beyond. My recollection of growing up is not that I was the cool kid in school. I was more—you would call me a nerd, probably—interested in science and technology, but I was very fortunate to have a lot of people in my court, if you will — my parents, for example, school teachers. A lot of people were encouraging me and telling me that as a Canadian, Jeremy, you have some great opportunities. And at the age of 12, my father told me about the Air Cadet Program and those were amazing opportunities that had a significant impact on my career. When I left high school and started my academic pursuits at the Royal Military College in Kingston, I knew I wanted to study engineering, so I ended up taking space science, which was kind of a mix of engineering and physics all in one curriculum, and it was the best program for me. It was fascinating the entire way through. After finishing my Bachelor’s degree, there was a delay in pilot training, so I decided to stay at the College and pursue a Master’s degree, which really was excellent timing for me, and I was able to finish that before I moved on to pilot training. I received my military wings, and then I asked to be a fighter jet pilot, and so I moved to Cold Lake, Alberta and started training on the CF-18. And all of my fighter pilot career was actually spent in Cold Lake.
When the Canadian Space Agency announced they were looking for astronauts, I found out from a number of channels. I actually saw it myself on CBC News. My parents saw it in the newspaper, and I received emails and phone calls from a number of friends and colleagues who let me know that they had seen the call for applications as well. There were a number of challenges in the recruitment campaign. One in particular was out in Halifax where we went to the Navy’s battle damage simulator, and they gave us one day of training on how to fight floods in this amazing simulator they have. They have rooms that are — with raging fires. They’re like a barbecue, and you’re using a fire hose to try and put out this fire that can never be put out, and you have holes in the walls where gushing water is coming in; it’s freezing cold water. And it’s just a day that they put you through the wringer. And by the end of the day, you’re in your last task, and it’s just everything you can do to stand up. It was really challenging. It was among the most challenging days I’ve had, but a very rewarding experience.
There’s just nothing mundane about being an astronaut. There’s always something new going on, always new tasks and new classes to take, new courses, refining skills like robotics and spacewalking skills. I’ve been learning Russian the entire time I’ve been there. I travel routinely back to Canada. I speak and meet with many Canadians across the country. I travel to other countries. It’s always fascinating and interesting. And that’s one of those things, if I never actually get to fly in space, just having done this job as an astronaut will have absolutely been worth it.