How to wait 7 years for a mission

What did David Saint-Jacques do during seven years on the ground? While we pay the most attention to astronauts when they are in space, that’s actually a very small part of their careers.

These days, a typical astronaut may spend only six months or a year in space across one or two missions.

This means you can’t focus too hard on the time in space. If you do that, you’ll never be motivated to finish training or the other important part of your job, which is supporting other missions.

But the payback can be huge, as what happened to David today (May 16). He was assigned to a spaceflight, concluding seven years of waiting — almost to the day — from when he first became an astronaut in 2009.

In an interview for this website, David said he got a “suspicious phone call” from a senior manager about two weeks ago that in a sense, launched his journey to the International Space Station.

Training begins around August and he is expected to launch in November 2018.

“I called my boss next because I wanted to ask permission of my wife to go,” he joked.

David’s mission stretches across two three-month space station expeditions: Expedition 58 and 59. None of his five other crew members have been named yet. That’s because David was selected as the co-pilot of Soyuz, the Russian spacecraft that will fly to the ISS. As a non-Russian holding this job, he requires the most training.

David and fellow astronaut Jeremy Hansen (who has not been assigned to a flight yet) were selected in May 2009 as part of Astronaut Group 20, which comprised new astronaut candidates from all over the world. The group went through two years of basic training to qualify as full astronauts.

How astronauts are chosen to fly is a secret thing, but it appears to be a combination of aptitude, readiness and skills needed in space. It also depends on how much money the astronaut’s country contributes to ISS. Canada is a smaller contributor, so we have to be patient against heavyweights such as the U.S. and Russia.

Our last flight landed almost exactly three years ago, when Chris Hadfield returned on May 13, 2013.

But astronauts are never idle. Half their time is spent maintaining proficiencies in skills such as flight, robotics, Russian, spacesuits, spacewalks and ISS systems. The other half is spent working.

David has been CapCom (the person communicating with the spacecraft) in Mission Control. He developed the complex choreography for spacewalks. He participated in analog missions. Very recently, he also served as the last check for ISS robotics procedures.

The next couple of years will be a blur of travel for David, as he cycles between time in Russia, the United States and several international partners who contribute pieces to the station (such as Japan and Canada). He’ll pick up skills in co-piloting, space station emergency procedures and operations and survival.

David and his Expedition 58 crewmates will need to have all the basics ready no later than six months before launch. That’s because they’ll be a backup for Expedition 56.

Once that mission lifts off, officials will add experiment training to Expedition 58’s manifest. (No one knows what the experiments are until about that point.)

David emphasized that the attention is on him because he is “wearing the spacesuit”, but there is an invisible support team behind every person that goes into space. Indeed, there was a large crew of public relations personnel from CSA helping him today with organizing interview times and keeping track of his activities.

“It takes an enormous team,” David said. We look forward to meeting some of those people in the coming months!

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