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Conversation about space exploration with astronauts


Uploaded on May 28, 2021


Conversation about space exploration with astronauts

2021-05-28 – This week, the CSA's President and astronauts talked to Minister François-Philippe Champagne about space exploration, the work of an astronaut and the benefits of space in our lives. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)


François-Philippe Champagne: First of all, welcome everyone to one of the most amazing sessions you can find. We are blessed to have four astronauts and the leader of the Canadian Space Agency with us today. And I talked – you know, I had the privilege to chat with them for almost 25 minutes, but I think it’s far more important that now, you, your voice be heard.

So now, what I’m going to be doing for the next few minutes, I’m going to be asking the questions you at home have suggested.

Jeremy. So, you’ll get the first question that I got over the weekend for you.

So, how does space exploration shift the paradigm for life on Earth? What do you think humanity can learn from exploring space?

Jeremy Hansen: I’d say it comes down to perspective. You know, we started off, we ventured off to learn more about space, but then we quickly turned our gaze back upon our planet, you know, both with our eyes, and then with satellites, and now, we realize that that perspective of space allows us to truly understand our planet to address some of the major challenges that face us, like climate change, how to live better on our planet. There’s no better place to take a heartbeat of our planet than in space, and perspective is a big one.

François-Philippe Champagne: Jenni, let me turn over to you with a question that you’ll find very interesting, a very personal question. It says, “It’s a lot of very hard work to become an astronaut. Not being one, I would suggest it is a lot of hard work. What or who inspired you and what are you hoping to learn from visiting space?”

Jenni Sidey-Gibbons: I love that question. I love that question because I think that’s one of the big things that space brings us. So, actually, here today, I’m in Houston, Texas. I’m doing a training flight in one of our training aircraft this afternoon, and I’m in the airport and you can see behind me part of what space does for us: it provides this incredible inspiration. So, that picture right there looking back at our Earth is something special that obviously we could have never fathomed without the expertise and the technology we’ve developed to travel in space.

And what inspired me personally, we’re so fortunate in Canada to be a spacefaring nation. So, on a vehicle like the Shuttle, we have Canada’s first astronaut, Marc Garneau. We have the incredible Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut. I mean, we have these amazing role models that inspired me when I was growing up. And again, when I was growing up, I just liked being outside. I love the country of Canada. I love being in British Columbia where my family lives now and just enjoying everything that this amazing landscape brings us. And for me, I felt very strongly the connection between that picture, the Canadians that were travelling on that rocket and my home.

So, what was so inspiring for me is moving forward, developing technologies to be able to travel in space and the effect that it has back on Earth. It just enables so much and it’s a big part of our modern life and I hope people understand that and are in awe of it just as much as I was.

François-Philippe Champagne: Well, Jenni, let me add one of my own and for all the young people who are watching you today, particularly young girls who are watching and dreaming of, you know, having a dream like yours becoming a reality, what did you do that prepared you best to do that? You know, on the one hand, we see the Earth on your left shoulder and we see the Space Shuttle, I think, is on the right side, if I can see. How do you feel that you were best prepared to get there and also like in the movie: “Back to you, Houston, now?”

Jenni Sidey-Gibbons: (Laughter) I copy. So, what best prepared me, I think, for me, my journey through my career and everything that I was passionate about, I mean, I was fortunate enough to find something that I really loved. I love engineering. I think it’s the intersection between science and helping people, using design to improve people’s lives. I absolutely love that concept. So, I was fortunate enough to find that early.

And then, what helped me the most is really backing myself. So once I realized that this is what I wanted to do and this is how I wanted to help people, this is what my contribution was going to be, I really had to work to develop the grit and the perseverance and the confidence to do it wholeheartedly, and I think that’s what propelled me along with the help of many, many people, a huge team of people who work here at NASA Johnson Space Center and the Canadian Space Agency, but also mentors, and allies, and colleagues.

François-Philippe Champagne: Josh, I’ll go back to you, but in French this time. So, 
I’m told, Josh, that you first served in the Canadian Armed Forces and you too were inspired to become an astronaut in your life, but who inspired you most in your journey to become an astronaut today, and who inspires you most today to become an astronaut?

Joshua Kutryk: I’ve been inspired by many people, of course, and in the past. But actually, as a kid I was fascinated by exploration, by science, and for me it was always about that: how to use science to do exploration. And in the same vein, I remember when I was young, I wanted to be like people like Amelia Earhart and Chuck Yeager because they were pushing the boundaries that were accepted at the time, and that was something that was really important to me.
After that, when I was in university, I remember it was Neil Armstrong. Neil Armstrong made an impression on me because, as a pilot, he knew how to apply his academic and scholarly rigour to the testbed so that humans can set foot on the Moon. And perhaps more recently, of course, it was Chris Hadfield. Chris Hadfield as a test pilot, as an astronaut, but most importantly, as a Canadian he inspired me as well.

François-Philippe Champagne: I would like to talk to David Saint-Jacques, someone who is well known to the people back home, and David is currently in Montreal. You can see that David is not wearing his astronaut uniform today because David chose today – not just today but during the COVID crisis – to serve as a doctor, and I think that shows to what extent astronauts are people who obviously care about the planet, but also about the well-being of all those who live on this planet.

And the question that we’ve got for you, David, is pretty inspiring, I would say. What can humanity gain from space exploration? And I would like to add, before I turn it over to you, to see a bit of a parallel with Canada. Often, we talk about medicine in remote regions and we talk about communications. What is the parallel between space and Earth, from your perspective as someone who has already been to space? How do you think humanity can benefit from what we invest in space exploration?

Over to you, Mr. Saint-Jacques.

David Saint-Jacques: To me, the benefits are obvious and it’s basically because, going into space, it’s exciting, it’s appealing because it’s mysterious, it’s an adventure, but it’s so difficult that it excites the most… the best of human genius. Solving the problems of the space environment, it’s like the excuse that we sometimes need to solve technical problems that we might not have otherwise solved, and then afterwards, once it’s done, we have all this technology now that we can use on Earth.

For example, this is particularly true in a field that concerns me: the medical field. In Canada, we are used to having populations that live in very remote regions, difficult to access, far from major medical centres; we all want to have better delivery of medical services to these people. It’s the same problem for astronauts in space who are also very far from help. And so anything we can do to help astronauts stay healthy, take care of their own health, is directly applicable on Earth. If we invent, say, a machine to take blood samples directly at the patient’s bedside, it’s good for space, but it’s good for millions of people on Earth. So this logic of applying space technology to Earth has always been there.

But on a more philosophical level, I think that space exploration also gives us a sense of responsibility, you know? When you leave Earth and you see it, with your eyes, it is a small blue ball, wonderful, which is this oasis of impossible life that floats in the vacuum of space. What is extraordinary, what is very impressive to look at in space, is when you turn around, and it is all black, it is dead, and Earth is the only place where we can exist. That little blue line of atmosphere, it’s like a mist enveloping Earth that keeps us alive in the vacuum of space. And I think it’s… the space experience has given humanity this sense of responsibility to the planet and also this sense that we’re all here in the same boat, that even though political tensions exist and they’re real, we’re able to work together…

François-Philippe Champagne: I have to ask you the last question that comes from my youngest daughter who asked me, speaking of the unknown: would you be willing to go to Mars? And would you even be willing to sleep there one night?

David Saint-Jacques: Yes, I would be willing to go, but I’m aware that it’s… it would be a huge time commitment, right? It’s years of training and preparation. I’d have to organize that with all the people I love, my whole life on Earth. But, yeah, I think we’re ready to go, but it’s more likely… I don’t know how old she is, your daughter, but… is she in school?

François-Philippe Champagne: Fourteen years old.

David Saint-Jacques: Fourteen years old.

François-Philippe Champagne: Fourteen.

David Saint-Jacques: You see, the human beings who are going to go to Mars for real, the engineers who are going to build those rockets, the astronauts who are going to go there, the people who are going to plan the missions, the thousands of people involved, those people, they were born, but it’s prob… they’re still children, maybe teenagers, about your daughter’s age maybe, but it’s more a dream for the next generation. We, our generation, our duty is to make this dream possible because it is still a very long-term dream.

François-Philippe Champagne: Thank you, David. Thank you, Jeremy. Thank you, Josh. Thank you, Jenni.

Because basically what you are telling us, David, is that we must continue to dream.

François-Philippe Champagne: Today, we’re talking about a lunar mission, we’re talking about orbiting the Moon to improve our knowledge to go further, to bring humanity together. What I liked about what you said to everyone – and especially what you said just now – is that it also gives a dream to future generations. We, in our generation, will have succeeded in doing things, but it is preparing the next generation to imagine further, bigger, higher, and that is the message.

But what I can say to you all, it’s been a privilege. I hope for you at home who are watching, that we can do that more often. You see them, you know, it’s fascinating when you listen to them and the dreams that are coming. And now, the implications also of the private sector in space, the fact that humanity is coming together, and if you look at the biggest challenge of humanity, whether it’s health or climate change, science, technology and innovation will bring the breakthroughs. And I think what you learnt from our friends the astronauts is that there is a lot that we can learn from space in order to improve lives here on planet Earth.

So, with that, Lisa, I’ll give you the final word as you’re the one who is heading the Space Agency, I think the first female as well to head… to be the head of our Space Agency.

Lisa Campbell: I am so proud of the brilliant hardworking Canadian Space Agency team.  We’re building Canadarm3 for the Gateway, a lunar outpost that will allow sustainable human exploration of the Moon, and in return for this, we’re going to have a chance to do lunar science, technology and administration and get two astronaut flights to the Moon.

It’s a really exciting time to be doing this work. 

François-Philippe Champagne: Well, thank you everyone. We’ll be signing off from Shawinigan, and I think you’ll be signing off from wherever you are and…
What I would like to say is, “see you again!” because we’ll be doing this again when one of our astronauts is on this mission to the Moon…
So until then, thank you for being with us today. 

Thank you for inspiring the entire nation, Jenni, Josh, Jeremy and David, and Lisa – thanks for the amazing work you’re doing on behalf of Canada.

Thank you all.



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