Hundreds in B.C. vie to become Canada’s next two astronauts

Glen Schaefer 07.19.2016

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Do you have the right stuff? Then the Canadian Space Agency wants you.

Some 376 applicants from B.C. — 241 of those from Metro Vancouver — are among 3,372 nationwide hoping to become Canada’s newest astronauts, as an Aug. 15 application deadline approaches.

It’s not the usual federal-job posting on the government’s jobs.gc.ca website. Karl Saad, project manager for the Canadian Space Agency’s recruitment campaign, said they’re looking to hire two astronauts.

“It’s not necessarily someone who excels in one specific area,” said Saad. “We’re looking more for someone who has a combination of skills — interaction with people, working in teams, being able to handle working in solitude as well. Able to take decisions, curious, but at the same time also have that science background.”

A selected group of applicants will be chosen for a year of further screening after the Aug. 15 application deadline passes. The agency launched its call for would-be astronauts June 17, and applicants aren’t likely to wait until the last minute to apply, Saad said.

“The application is fairly lengthy,” he said. “It’s not something where you wake up, staple your resume to it and stick it in the mailbox. We ask lot of in-depth questions, we really want to understand the people, what they’re made of and what’s their motivation.”

Canada currently has two active astronauts — Quebec’s David Saint-Jacques, a 46-year-old who’s set for a trip to the International Space Station in 2018, and 40-year-old Jeremy Hansen from Ontario, who is waiting for his assignment. Both men have been with the astronaut corps since 2009.

Having only two astronauts leaves Canada short-staffed. “If for some reason one of them became disqualified for flight, we would be left with one astronaut. Canada has invested a lot in the International Space Station program. If a flight option is offered to us, we really want to maximize that opportunity.”

It takes a minimum of five years to prepare an astronaut for space flight — two years of basic training followed assignments that include serving as the communications link between ground control and the astronauts aboard the space station. Both Saint-Jacques and Hansen have served in that role.

“That way, when it comes time for them to go up, they already have a sense of how the day goes, the type of situations that are dealt with.”

The agency is encouraging women to apply, Saad said, adding that women made up about 20 per cent of applicants in the previous recruitment drive in 2009.

Saad himself applied to be an astronaut in 1992, after a career in the military. He ended up working for the space agency in another capacity.

“Anybody that has the dream, don’t second-guess yourself. Take the chance. apply and do your best.”

Canada’s current space program includes developing remote optical gear to be used on the space station with the Canadarm, and research into diagnosing medical issues in space.

 

Since 1983, 12 Canadians have been selected to become astronauts. Eight of them have participated in 16 space missions — Marc Garneau, Roberta Bondar, Steve MacLean, Chris Hadfield, Robert Thirsk, Bjarni Tryggvason, Dave Williams and Julie Payette. Next up is David Saint-Jacques, who will board a Soyuz rocket in 2018 for his first space mission to the International Space Station.

The Americans say the ISS, including living quarters, work space and solar panels, is as big as a football field. Canadians say it’s the size of five NHL rinks.

A program of tests, medical examinations, security clearances and written exams for selected applicants will take until next summer, when the names of the new astronauts will be announced. In August 2017, the successful two will relocate to Houston, Texas, to begin two years of basic training. They’ll be based in Houston for their astronaut careers.

There are no specific age restrictions. In its 2009 recruitment drive, Canada picked astronauts aged 33 and 39. In 2013, NASA chose recruits aged between 26 and 46.

Requirements include a bachelor’s degree in engineering, science or nursing science, or a doctorate in medicine or dentistry. 20/20 eyesight is required — those who have had laser corrective surgery are eligible, but the agency doesn’t recommend getting the surgery just to apply.

Swimming and scuba-diving certification are required. Astronaut training often happens underwater to simulate weightlessness. They also have to pass a military aquatic survival course.

When they’re assigned to a mission, astronauts have about two years to prepare. Between missions they participate in mission simulations and other exercises. They’re also ambassadors for the space program. Once up in the ISS, they do research and help maintain the station.

Entry-level annual salary, including the training period, is $91,300. Senior-level annual salary, once an astronaut has successfully completed a space mission, is $178,400.

— Source: Canadian Space Agency

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