Adjunct Professor Becomes McGillian's Room aboard International Space Station
By Neale McDevitt, McGill Reporter
Yesterday, astronaut David Saint-Jacques joined a very exclusive club when the Russian rocket Soyuz MS-11, carrying him and two crew, landed with the International Space Station (ISS). Saint-Jacques became only the 234th person – and the fourth member of the McGill community – to board the ISS, the giant floating laboratory that orbits about 408 kilometers above Earth.
It will not be the first time that Saint-Jacques has been working in a distant destination. The Saint-Lambert native completed his residency in family medicine at McGill in 2007, focusing on first-line and isolated medical practice.
He put this training into use after graduation when he served as Co-chief of Medicine at the Inuulitsivik Health Center in Puvirnituq, Nunavik, an Inuit community in Hudson Bay. Adjunct Professor of Family Medicine at McGill, he also served as Professor of Clinical Faculty at the Faculty of Medicine, overseeing medical trainees in Nunavik.
"This experience proved to be a great preparation for my career as an astronaut," he said in a recent video of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. "In a remote environment with limited resources, teamwork and creativity are essential. This spirit of collaboration serves me every day. "
But Saint-Jacques says the lessons learned for the north are even deeper than that. "As in the field of space exploration, everyone is enthusiastically dedicated to their work: first responders, doctors, nurses, air ambulance pilots," he said. "You learn to work together and trust each other to the point of not hesitating to put your life in the hands of your colleagues."
Seeking discovery and adventure
Even by astronaut standards, the 48-year-old Saint-Jacques is incredibly successful. He holds a bachelor's degree in engineering in physical engineering; and doctorate in astrophysics; and a medical degree. Saint-Jacques has a commercial pilot license with classification of various engines and instruments. He is fully trained as co-pilot of the Soyuz robotic operator and space walker. Fluent in French and English, he can also converse in Russian, Spanish and Japanese.
"Understand: this is my main motivation," he says in his biography page of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). "This fundamental need has guided my academic and professional career. I've always wanted to get to the bottom of things and go beyond books and theory. I am naturally curious and attracted by discovery and adventure. "
After being assigned to Expedition 58 in May 2016, Saint-Jacques spent the last two years in intensive training in Canada, Russia, the United States, Europe and Japan, where he improved his skills and knowledge in the ISS, the Soyuz spacecraft and a mission-specific tasks. Earlier this summer, Saint-Jacques visited McGill's Steinberg Center for Simulation and Interactive Learning to update his knowledge of Advanced Life Support Trauma.
How does microgravity affect the body?
Over the next six months, Saint-Jacques will conduct a series of scientific experiments, using himself as the main test subject. Saint-Jacques will monitor the effects of space on everything from bone density to eye pressure. Seeking to develop new programs to keep astronauts healthy in space, the experiments will also help determine the best ways to physically prepare astronauts for a potential mission to Mars.
Returning to his days in Nunavik, Saint-Jacques also hopes to optimize remote medical care, seeking to improve telemedicine, what he calls "the art of providing medical care when the patient is away from a doctor."
"It is clear that telemedicine applies to astronauts on the way to a distant destination, but it also applies to the Earth for people living in rural communities far from urban centers," said Saint-Jacques during his last press conference days before launch . "I know from experience that everything that is developed for remote medicine in space can be applied to Earth."
McGill at ISS
Each astronaut can bring a small bag of personal belongings to the ISS. Along with his wedding ring and other personal souvenirs, Saint-Jacques has a McGill emblem.
McGill's presence is strong aboard the ISS, with Saint-Jacques following the zero-gravity steps of McGill's three other big flyers, including Governor General Julie Payette, Robert Thirsk and Dafydd "Dave" Williams.
McGill's spatial tradition can continue with Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons, an engineering graduate, who became an astronaut in 2017. Co-sponsoring the CSA launch event on Monday with Robert Thirsk, Sidey-Gibbins barely managed to contain her excitement when the Soyuz rocket reached orbit.
"We all know David very well at the Canadian Space Agency, and for anyone on his journey, that's something he's been working on for years," said Sidey-Gibbons, smiling broadly. "To see you finally get to that dream is … wonderful."
The event ended with a pre-recorded message from a grateful staff from Saint-Jacques to the CSA. "You charged me for this moment and now I'll take you the rest of the way," he said. "Space exploration requires a tremendous team effort and I am grateful for the efforts of thousands of men and women in Canada and around the world who have worked behind the scenes to ensure the success of this mission.
"It is your talent and effort – your talent and effort – that made this mission possible … You have done your best to make this mission a reality and I am grateful and proud to be your representative," he said. "Today, I will reach an old dream and also take your dreams with me.
"I hope that through this mission, the Canadian Space Agency and I can spark curiosity and interest for young Canadians and inspire them to be the next generation of explorers."
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December 7, 2018