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150th anniversary lectures: David Saint-Jacques brings inspiration to Polytechnique Montréal

October 23, 2023 - Source : NEWS

On October 19, Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques shared stories about his career and experience in space at a special event held to mark Polytechnique Montréal's anniversary year. Mr. Saint-Jacques is also an astrophysicist, physician and engineer, having earned a bachelor's degree in engineering physics from Polytechnique in 1993. Here's an account of his memorable visit.

It was late in the morning when David Saint-Jacques was welcomed to the campus by Maud Cohen, President of Polytechnique Montréal. He was then ushered to the senior management offices to chat with Ms. Cohen and sign the university's guest book.

L’astronaute de l’Agence spatiale canadienne David Saint-Jacques et Maud Cohen. (Photo : Denis Bernier)
Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques and Maud Cohen. (Photo: Denis Bernier)

Mr. Saint-Jacques then gave an inspiring presentation to several hundred members of the Polytechnique community filling the Bernard-Lamarre Amphitheatre.

After playing a Canadian Space Agency video that provided an overview of his space mission, he talked about his childhood and his first dreams of space, in addition to his experience working as a doctor in Canada's North. Next, he shared stories about his time aboard the International Space Station (ISS), where he carried out various life science experiments, including some on the impact of weightlessness on health.

Speaking of his mission aboard the ISS, Mr. Saint-Jacques talked about the collaboration between the astronauts from different countries and the "epiphany" he experienced while gazing at the Earth through a porthole and thinking about the space probes that travel to the far corners of the universe. He also mentioned the shock of returning to Earth and how he needed to readjust after spending nearly seven months in space.

L’astronaute de l’Agence spatiale canadienne David Saint-Jacques durant sa conférence. (Photo : Denis Bernier)
(Photo: Denis Bernier)

Mr. Saint-Jacques shared details about the upcoming mission to the Moon, which will include Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen, before discussing future plans to explore Mars and the various unknowns that still surround this undertaking. To conclude his presentation, Mr. Saint-Jacques played a captivating video showing the Earth's surface and the northern lights, filmed from the ISS.

During the question-and-answer session, the Polytechnique alumnus touched on a wide range of topics, such as what will happen to the ISS when it stops operating, the payloads he handled in space, and what it takes to become an astronaut. "You've got to love what you do, be in good health, and be both self-confident and humble at the same time."

David Saint-Jacques durant sa conférence (Photo : Denis Bernier)
(Photo: Denis Bernier)

Mr. Saint-Jacques told the audience about his interest in healthcare and the opportunities for Canada to use technology to empower its citizens. He also spoke about the impact of the human factor during space missions, emphasizing the valuable support from the large team "on the ground." The astronaut talked about the work he did while completing a PhD in astrophysics, the skills that unexpectedly came in handy in space and, of all things, his favourite equation!

After the presentation, Mr. Saint-Jacques visited the Engineering Physics Department, where he met with student members of Oronos Polytechnique, which designs and builds rockets, PolyOrbite, which specializes in nanosatellite and robotic rover design and manufacturing, and Astropoly, a committee focused on astronomy. Noticeably awestruck by the astronaut's presence, the students presented their work in the areas of engineering, aeronautics and space exploration.

David Saint-Jacques avec des étudiantes et étudiants de sociétés techniques et d'un comité étudiant (Photo : Denis Bernier)
(Photo: Denis Bernier)

Concluding his visit to his alma mater, Mr. Saint-Jacques stopped by the Lorne-M.-Trottier Atrium in the Lassonde Pavilions, where photos of his graduating class are on display to mark the 30 years that have passed since they graduated. The Canadian Space Agency astronaut shared a few memories of his time at Polytechnique and posed for a photo.

David Saint-Jacques et la mosaïque de sa promotion. (Photo : Denis Bernier)
David Saint-Jacques in 1993 ... and in 2023. (Photo: Denis Bernier)

On behalf of the entire Polytechnique community, thank you, David!

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