Where Will Canadian Astronauts Fly Next?

The Soyuz booster rocket and MS-11 spacecraft is seen on the launch pad after being rolled out by train on Sat. Dec.1, 2018 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Launch of the Soyuz rocket is scheduled for Dec. 3 and will carry Expedition 58 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Anne McClain of NASA, and Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) into orbit to begin their six and a half month mission on the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani.

BAIKONUR COSMODROME, KAZAKHSTAN – With Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques preparing for a ride into space tomorrow, the natural question to ask is — when will we get our next chance?

Canada has three more astronauts waiting in line for flights, and one of them has been patiently there for almost a decade. Jeremy Hansen (who is several years younger than Saint-Jacques) was selected in 2009, along with this week’s Saint-Jacques.

They were both around to help out when Chris Hadfield flew into space in 2012-13, and in the years following they were busy with ground duties; Hansen, for example, was assigned to mentor the 2017 astronaut corps and ensure they are completing their duties. He is next in line to fly, although when depends on the rate of commercial crew flights.

Meanwhile, Canada’s two newest astronauts are about midway through their required two year astronaut candidate training. Josh Kutryk and Jenni Sidey-Gibbons both will appear at media events this week — Kutryk in Baikonur and Sidey-Gibbons in Montreal.

In an interview here in Baikonur Dec. 2, Kutryk said he is working his way through the required training, which is broken up into four main modules — flying, extra-vehicular activities, technical training and Russian training. (There are also smaller components such as expeditionary training, geology and education about the workings of space agencies, he said.)

The Russian language component is demanding, he acknowledged, with new recruits having anywhere from six to 12 hours a week of instruction and then the same number of hours in self-study. He joked it came in handy here in Baikonur as he helped to escort VIPs — “I served as a basic level translator,” he said.

But Kutryk is also here for his own education; observing the launch activities gives him some time to learn about Roscosmos (the Russian space agency) and Baikonur, he said. “I will have that background to fall back on” for his own launch, he said, although what program he will be launching in is unclear, he said.

After new astronauts wrap up their training, it is traditional to give them flight support assignments to give them experience in working on missions long before they actually go to space. A common Canadian coup is receiving training on capcom, the communications link between Mission Control in Houston and the ISS. But those assignments will not be released publicly until the astronaut candidates finish their training.

A more distant possibility is participation in the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. NASA is interested in Canadian participation, although the Trudeau government is still formulating its long-term space plan and has not made a commitment yet.

If Canada does sign up, this could mean that Sidey-Gibbons and Kutryk will have the chance to participate in lunar missions, a first for Canadian astronauts. (Canadian technology did famously participate in the lunar landings — the legs that the Apollo spacecraft used were manufactured here.)

The scheduled launch for Saint-Jacques is at 6:31 a.m. EST (11:31 a.m. GMT or 5:31 p.m. local time) on Dec. 3. Watch it live on SpaceQ.

About Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell
Canadian space and science reporter, researcher and consultant. I also am pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of North Dakota.