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Inuit values heading to space
Astronaut and former Nunavik-based doctor visits Nunavut to inspire students

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Monday, October 24, 2016

When David Saint-Jacques heads to the International Space Station in 2018 for a six-month mission, he will be Canada's ninth astronaut in space. He'll also take with him lessons learned working with Inuit as a family doctor in Nunavik.

NNSL photo/graphic

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and Inuksuk High School students surround a giant floor map as part of a new educational activity set to tour the North. - Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

"(Nunavik) is where I learned to be a good astronaut," Saint-Jacques told students at Iqaluit's Inuksuk High School Oct. 17. "I didn't know it at the time. When you live in a far-away region with fewer resources you have to be smart. You have to be resourceful. You have to figure it out."

Inuit societal values also remain in his mind as he leaves the planet.

" I learned the great values of learning, of tradition, of respect for the knowledge of the elders and the humility required to become competent," he told the students. "And teamwork, community relationships, working together. It seems to me that for the Inuit, the process of learning is a very personal process, a very communal process, an interpersonal process. That I learned from you guys."

He also talked about the importance of environmentalism.

"This is our spacecraft," he said, as he pointed to an image of the Earth from space on a giant screen.

"We are all astronauts. The Earth is very fragile - a small oasis in a deadly vacuum of space.

"The land does not belong to us, we belong to the land. And Inuit, of course, for millennia have had the tradition of knowing in detail about the land and taking very good care of it," he added.

Saint-Jacques was in Iqaluit to launch a new project set to tour the territories.

On the gymnasium floor, Inuksuk High School students sat around a massive map of Canada, one of three made from a mosaic of 121 images of the country taken from space by Canada's RADARSAT-2 satellite.

"Through this activity, we are combining the uniqueness of the Northern identity and the subject of space to inspire the young people of Canada's North to become our next generation of engineers, scientists and astronauts," stated Navdeep Bains, Canada's minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, in a news release.

Saint-Jacques, 46, described himself as a lifelong learner, still in the process of achieving the dream he's had since he was a boy when he saw a photo of the Earth from space.

With degrees in medicine, engineering and astrophysics, he has been learning Russian because, he explained, he will travel to space in a Russian vessel, the Soyuz rocket.

"The space station is about four times the size of this gymnasium," he said. "It was built in space, piece by piece. Sixteen nations built it, nations that fought wars together. It's the biggest thing humans have ever done together."

Saint-Jacques said going to space is still his dream.

"I haven't achieved my dream, yet," he said. "I used to think it was impossible, but at least I would try. I got lucky. I got selected. I've been working in Houston, at NASA, for eight years. Finally, it was my turn to get a space mission. In two years, I will go to the International Space Station."

The students clapped and cheered.

During the Canadian Space Agency's first recruitment drive since 2009, 3,372 Canadians applied this summer to become astronauts. Five of them were Nunavummiut.

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