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David Saint-Jacques talks to young Quebecers during UNIS Montréal (French WE Day)


Uploaded on June 12, 2019

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David Saint-Jacques talks to young Quebecers during UNIS Montréal (French WE Day)

2019-06-12 - During UNIS Montreal (French WE Day) in February 2019, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut David Saint-Jacques shared his perspective of Earth from space, live from the International Space Station. He also talked about work he is doing to improve our quality of life on Earth through science experiments that he is conducting in orbit. (Credits: Canadian Space Agency, NASA)


David Saint-Jacques: Hello to everyone gathered at Théâtre St-Denis for WE Day Montreal! 

I’m David Saint-Jacques, Canadian Space Agency astronaut. I’m coming to you from the International Space Station, one of humanity’s most complex projects, which has allowed a permanent human presence in space for 20 years.

It took more than 10 years to assemble the Space Station in orbit, one module at a time, using Canadian robotic arms – the  Canadarm and Canadarm2.

But the Space Station is far more than a technological achievement. It is also one of the largest peaceful international collaborations in history; including Canada, the United States, Russia, Japan and several European countries, like Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain. We have come a long way, since, the not so distance past, when some of these countries were at war with each other.

The space field is a little like the WE movement. We are a large global community, and we work hand in hand to carry out projects that are greater than ourselves. And I am proud to be a part of it. It gives me hope for our children and for the future of humankind. It is proof that we can work together; and that, when we manage to get past our differences and focus on a common goal, we can accomplish extraordinary things.

Clara from Collège Sainte-Anne asks, “What do you do on the International Space Station to advance science?” and Sarah from Hawkesbury Catholic High School wonders how my space mission will benefit humanity. 

Well, the Space Station is first and foremost a research laboratory. I’m participating in hundreds of scientific experiments during this mission, and I’m also testing several new technologies. What we learn will help us   to one day send astronauts to explore far-off places like the Moon and, eventually, Mars. Who knows, maybe you!

What we learn also helps on Earth. Most of the experiments conducted on the Space Station, in particular those supported by Canada, focus on health and the human body. The Space Station is an ideal place for medical research, essentially because going to space is bad for the human body. Before leaving, all astronauts are in great shape, but, once in space, our muscles begin to lose strength. Our immune system weakens. Our bones become fragile. Our sense of direction and balance are affected. 

These phenomena are a  bit like rapid aging. Changes in the human body that take years on Earth happen very quickly in space. That makes us excellent guinea pigs for learning about conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes and anemia. So, by trying to find solutions for astronauts’ health problems, we are also helping find health care solutions for people on Earth. 

Émilie from Académie des Sacrés-Cœurs asks, “What’s the most impressive thing you’ve seen in space?” 

What strikes me when I take photos in space is seeing the thin blue line that surrounds our planet. That line is the atmosphere, and it’s our only protection against the deadly vacuum of space. 

Jean-Christophe from Le Sommet High School asks, “What’s it like seeing Earth from space?” It’s a very moving sight. Earth is surrounded by a brilliant blue halo. It looks alive. It even seems to breathe. It floats silently across the black velvet of space.

For millions of years, Earth has been keeping billions of living things alive. It’s the only place that supports life as we know it. If you look at a photo of Earth, do you see a huge tube coming from space to bring us fresh air and water? Of course not! What we have on Earth is all we’ve got. Everything is part of an incredible resource recycling loop. It’s our spaceship in the universe, and it’s up to us to take care of it. 

It’s actually a bit of a paradox. I always wanted to go into space, and I trained for it for years. But, as soon as I arrived in space, the first thing I wanted to do was look at Earth! When you leave your planet, you become fully aware of where you come from. 

And so, to Iris from Pierre-Marquette High School, who asks whether being in space changes your perspective on everyday life, my answer is: absolutely. It’s from space that we are truly able to admire Earth and get a better sense of its beauty, its fragility and its history. And seeing Earth without borders makes us even more aware that we’re all humans on the same planet. Being Canadian, American or Russian —that’s our culture. It’s important, but it’s not fundamental to who we are as human beings.

And I will finish with a question from Alexander from Collège Citoyen: “What advice would you give to young people who are undecided about their career choice, to enlighten them and encourage them in their studies?”

I will answer with some advice that Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean gave me when I was a student. First and foremost, make choices that will make you happy. That way, you will be happy wherever life takes you. 

I encourage you to have a dream. If possible, a big, crazy and impossible dream!—and then to remember that it doesn’t matter if you don’t achieve it. Dreams are important because they provide a direction, not necessarily a destination. We must cherish our dreams and let ourselves be guided by our ideals, all while remaining open to the opportunities that arise along the way. And, very important, don’t consider yourself a failure if you end up someplace other than where you planned or expected. If every step is a positive experience, and every step makes you happy, the end result will be the right one. 

So, continue to dream big, to try to change the world one action at a time, and to come together to accomplish bigger and better things. Our planet really needs engaged citizens like you!

Live from space, I wish you a wonderful WE Day! 

Bye bye. 


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