ER When we can start travelling again, where are some places on Earth you can’t wait to visit?
DSJ I will be glad to see Montreal again, and to see my parents at their cottage by the lake. But for the moment, I can close my eyes and travel in my imagination.
ER How did your time in space change your perspective on Earth?
DSJ There are two big things. First, it’s sobering to see how exposed we are as a species on our beautiful blue planet, floating in the middle of nowhere. The atmosphere seen from space is like a little thread of fog clinging to the surface of the Earth. The oceans are a mere coat of varnish. And this is it; this is the impossible oasis in the middle of nowhere where we all live. And you look around it and the moon is just a rock, the sun is a ball of fire, other planets are hopelessly inhospitable, and here’s Earth. It’s like a mountain climber who has only one rope; you better take good care of the rope. The magnitude of the environmental and political challenges we are facing are huge, and there’s just no option but to fix them.
But the second thing is that there seems to be no limit to the power of the human spirit. It never ceases to amaze me how the community that’s part of the International Space Station program, comprised of countries that not so long ago were at war with each other, work together in space and come up with incredible miracles in technology. I would wake up on a Sunday, make myself a coffee, go look at the planet and be completely comfortable in space – and that’s thanks to the teamwork around the world, the thousands of people who scratched their heads and came up with solutions to impossible technical challenges. That’s the silver lining: Yes, there are huge environmental and political and social challenges, but I don’t worry about them because humans are able to come up with solutions. There’s no limit to the reach and power of the human imagination when we decide to work together.
ER When we spoke to you pre–blastoff, you said the thing you were most looking forward to was “seeing our beautiful planet floating against the black velvet of space.” Did it live up to your expectations?
DSJ It still sends shivers down my spine. We were still in the Soyuz spacecraft, and the engine had just shut off after 10 minutes of constant acceleration to bring us to orbital speed. We had lifted off at sunset, so by the time we got to space we were on the night side of the Earth. I looked outside my cockpit window between sending commands and I saw my first sunrise: the curved horizon of the Earth seen from above, all the colours, the remnants of a few city lights. It was so moving to see the Earth like that.
The daily view from the space station cupola became a game – I would try to guess, where am I over Earth? What is this continent? What is this country? I became quite good at it. Every continent has its own general look; you quickly recognize Europe and Asia and Africa. We had this saying on board, “If it looks really strange and you think you’ve never been there, it’s probably Australia.” I loved flying over Canada; it’s very easy to recognize the Canadian Shield, the North, the shape of the west and east coasts, and Quebec. One of the most precious things that I brought back from space is this perspective.