If you have a dream, set goals. But don’t just set goals — tell people about those goals and you will find help in achieving them.
That was the message Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen drove home as part of his talk with schools across the Northwest Territories May 6.
“There are three key areas that are important for you to work on as you go through building yourself into an adult,” he told the children. “It’s really important and valuable to learn about science and technology. It helps us understand the world we live in. It helps us understand how to interact with it and how to take care of it.
“Really feeling the heartbeat of our planet so important for us. We’ve made so many mistakes with our planet and it’s just really important going forward that we learn to live in harmony with our planet.”
He also advised the children to take good care of their physical and mental health, and to learn to work together in teams.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Inuvik”
Schools in the Beaufort Delta won the Canadian Space Agency’s Junior Astronaut Challenge and were able to spend an hour with Hansen, who dialed into the video chat from Houston, Texas. Under the umbrella of the Inuvik Robotics Club, elementary students from East Three Elementary and Secondary School in Inuvik, Chief Paul Niditchie School in Tsiigehtchic, Mangilaluk School in Tuktoyaktuk, Chief Julius School in Fort McPherson, Mackenzie Mountain School in Norman Wells, and two students from Joamie Ilinniarvik School, Iqaluit, all asked questions about space exploration.
Helen Kalvak Elihakvik school in Ulukhaktok was also invited to participate but was unable to because of bad internet connection issues. Students at Weledeh Catholic School in Yellowknife participated in a separate call.
Prior to reaching for the stars, Hansen was a fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, flying F-18 fighter jets in and out of Inuvik Airport in the 1990s while stationed at 4-Wing in Cold Lake, Alta.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Inuvik,” said Hansen. “I just love it up there. I just love going to places where people work together. It’s a harsh tough environment and it’s just inspiring to see people thrive there.”
Having served 12 years as a Canadian astronaut and only now training to fly a spacecraft, Hansen noted the road to space is a very long one. On top of keeping up his skills as a fighter pilot, flying well past the speed of sound, he said as an astronaut he engaged in all sorts of training missions to prepare him for work on the International Space Station.
Underground and underwater
A rocket escaping the Earth’s gravity has to move 25 times the speed of a fighter pilot, and the unique challenges of Earth-orbit amount to a lot of varied training. For example, Hansen noted he was part of a teambuilding spelunking expedition into caves in Sardina, Italy.
Highlighting some of the more exciting areas of that training, Hansen noted the most surreal was the underwater training to prepare for using a space suit.
”The spacesuit weighs a couple hundred kilograms,” he said. ” If we put the spacesuit in water we can simulate what it’s like to be in microgravity. That helps us train and practice doing spacewalks.
“I stayed there a week and i got to really immerse myself in it. By the time I left I had a completely different perspective. I was starting to see the little things in the coral, the tiny little marine life that you don’t see at first glance. I was starting to see that the fish have habits. The same fish do the same things and it’s really fascinating to see. You can almost set your watch by it.”
Another area of training he highlighted was zero gravity training, which is simulated by flying a plane high up into the atmosphere and then dropping altitude at high speeds, causing everything on board to float as if there was no gravity.
He said it was one of the funnest experiences of training to be an astronaut.
“It only lasts about 20-25 seconds, but it is super fun,” he said. “You can imagine if we could turn off gravity in your classrooms right now. You’d be floating all over the place, bouncing off the walls, doing flips and flying like superman. It’d be really really fun.”
Hansen is one of four active Canadian astronauts currently training for missions in space. He also gave an overview of how being in space affects the human body and some of the spectacular experiences one can have on the International Space Station.
Shoot for the moon
When he’s not training for space travel, Hansen said he keeps busy working on other projects at NASA to improve life for humans in space, as well as solve logistical problems to help further along humanity’s expansion into space.
To that end, he encouraged the students to keep up their grades and think big. With new discoveries about Mars, the Solar System and exoplanets beyond, Hansen said the space program was just getting bigger and bigger and would need more people to fill those jobs.
As an example, he highlighted NASA’s ambition to establish a permanent presence on the Moon.
”Things are changing in space,” he said. “We’re gonna leave low earth orbit. We’re building new spacecraft to explore the moon and we’re gonna build a space station, a small one, around the moon called the Gateway. A lot of work that we’re doing on the space station is teaching us how to live on the moon, for example, but ultimately how to get to Mars. So we have set a goal of taking humans back to the moon to learn how to go to Mars and how to survive.
“We have a lot of work to do but it’s changing rapidly and we need more and more people working in the space program. We see more and more ways that space can help us live better on the planet which means there’s more jobs in Canada related to space, not just related to exploring space but also related to helping us live better on this planet.
“If it’s something that interests you I just want you to know there’s going to be way more space jobs in the future.”
Hansen closed his talk by re-iterating to not just set goals, but talk about those goals.
“I had a goal — something that I wanted to do and then I did something really important I shared it with other people and that is how you achieve things,” he said.
“I didn’t make myself an astronaut. It was a lot of people that helped me become an astronaut.”