Design Engineering

Canadian astronaut to take part in groundbreaking space experiments

By Peter Rakobowchuk   

General Aerospace Astronaut International Space Station

David Saint-Jacques will study how the body's immune and vascular systems function in space on the International Space Station in Nov. 2018.

LONGUEUIL, Que. — When Canadian Astronaut David Saint-Jacques boards the International Space Station in November 2018, he’ll be involved in groundbreaking experiments on how the body’s immune and vascular systems function in space.

The Quebec City native said Wednesday the work he’ll do during his six-month mission will have benefits on Earth as well.

NASA David Saint-Jacques astronaut

CSA astronaut David Saint-Jacques and his colleagues Nick Hague and Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA receive spacewalk training at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) in Houston. (Credit: NASA/David DeHoyos)

“It’s very important for us to always pick studies that, yes, help space flight, but also they must have some impact for people on Earth,” Saint-Jacques told a news conference that brought together scientists and other space experts at the Canadian Space Agency south of Montreal.

While in orbit, Saint-Jacques, 47, will be wearing a so-called “smart shirt” that monitors an astronaut’s vital signs.


Jean-Francois Roy, a Montreal-area scientist who helped develop the technology, said the bio-monitor will be worn at all times, even while the astronaut is sleeping.

“They don’t have to hook up to a wall or specific place in the space station,” Roy said in an interview.

“They can just wear the smart shirt and do everything else, so we monitor the heart, respiration, the oxygen in the blood, the blood pressure, the temperature — everything that is required to really analyze the astronauts.”

On Earth, the device has the potential to monitor the health of Canadians in remote communities who have limited access to medical care.

Saint-Jacques will also test a new instrument known as a bio-analyzer which will perform near real-time analysis of blood.

“This blood tester works on a finger prick, a drop of blood is all you need,” explained Ian D’Souza, a scientist with an aerospace company in Ontario. “You won’t have to have special skills to draw blood.”

The bio-analyzer could also have applications on Earth because a test can be done immediately in a doctor’s office, without having the sample sent to a lab.

D’Souza added that in the future, the tester could potentially be used to analyze urine, saliva and water.

Two new experiments were also announced, including one that will investigate and monitor the immune systems of astronauts during long-duration missions on the space station.

Another “first-of-its kind” experiment on vascular aging will study the impact of weightlessness, nutrition, physical activity and radiation on the cardiovascular system.

Saint-Jacques said he’s as healthy as he’s ever been, but that will change once he gets aboard the space station.

“As soon as I arrive in space my bones will start to weaken due to weightlessness,” he said, noting that “astronauts in space loose more bone mass in a month than an adult over 50 loses in an entire year on Earth.”

Saint-Jacques also stressed the importance of the experiments he will be involved in.

“Research in space is important if humans are to explore further and for longer periods — especially if humans are ever to set foot on Mars,” he said.


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