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David Saint-Jacques on Prepping and Packing for Six Months in Space

The Canadian astronaut shared some pre-blastoff thoughts.

David Saint-Jacques

Hometown Montreal

Home Bases Houston and Moscow

Claim to Fame Engineer, astrophysicist, physician and astronaut. Prior to joining the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in 2009, he was a doctor and the Co-chief of Medicine at the Inuulitsivik Health Centre in Puvirnituq, Quebec

Current Project Prepping to be the first CSA astronaut since Chris Hadfield to live aboard the International Space Station. He blasts off on December 3 in a Soyuz spacecraft

How do you even begin to prepare for space travel?
It’s everything from athletics to Russian language training to learning to fly and using the Canadarm. And we have to learn all the emergency procedures of the space station and the rocket. All in all, it’s like a mixture of getting a pilot’s licence, public speaking and training for a sports event.

What’s the physical training like?
Space takes a toll on your body, so you have to be in the best possible shape. Your shoulders need to be strong just to wear the spacesuit. We also train in a centrifuge, which simulates the same g-force that our bodies will experience during ascent and re-entry. For me, all the physical work is really new.

How do you pack for six months in space?
Your suitcase is the size of a shoebox. You only need to bring personal effects, like a wedding ring, or mementos you want from Earth. Everything else, like toiletries, is standard issue. I’m bringing something to remind me of my children and my wife, and a Rubik’s Cube that my parents gave me when I was a kid.

Did Commander Hadfield offer any tips?
He and Julie Payette have been very generous in sharing advice with the rookies. The most useful thing I gleaned from talking to them is that it’s called “human space flight” for a reason — you’ve got to be yourself.

What’s the longest trip you have taken, prior to space?
I lived abroad for most of my young life — two years in Japan, four years in the U.K. For the last nine years, I have been working as an astronaut in the U.S. I’ve been an expat all my life. It’s not the same as a trip, but in many ways, I find it more meaningful.

What are you most looking forward to up there?
Seeing our beautiful planet floating against the black velvet of space with my own eyes. Everybody knows it exists, but few have seen it.

What do astronauts do in their space off-hours, for fun?
Frankly, most people just look out the window.