LONGUEUIL, Que. — David Saint-Jacques is set to return to Earth on Monday after more than six months aboard the International Space Station.
The Canadian astronaut will join NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko aboard a Soyuz capsule that’s expected to land just before 11 p.m. ET.
Saint-Jacques’ mission began ahead of schedule on Dec. 3, when he was part of the first crewed Soyouz mission following a rocket mishap that forced a spacecraft carrying two astronauts to abort and make an emergency landing last October.
The Saint-Lambert, Que., native will set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a Canadian at 204 days.
Saint-Jacques, 49, took part in a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk in April and a “cosmic catch” of SpaceX Dragon cargo using Canadarm2 — the first time a Canadian astronaut has operated the robotic arm to perform the feat.
The engineer, astrophysicist and family doctor also oversaw numerous science experiments and had numerous discussions with kids across the country during his mission.
In his final days, Saint-Jacques said he was refamiliarizing himself with the Soyuz craft that has been parked for the duration of their stay and will take them home starting Monday afternoon. He tweeted over the weekend the craft was in fine form despite being parked for six months.
“It will take a few hours but we’ll fall back to Earth — literally,” Saint-Jacques explained to reporters last week. “After crossing into Earth’s atmosphere, the parachutes will open, we’ll land in Kazhakstan and be picked up by Russian team and taken to the airport where we’ll return to Houston to be reunited with our families.”
The married father of three young children said he’s looking forward to seeing his family again.
Saint-Jacques told reporters last week that he’s aware of the physical challenges that await after six months in zero gravity — that includes blood circulation problems, muscle pains and an elongated spine that will return to normal. That could mean trouble walking and moving around for a while.
Saint-Jacques’ recovery is first and foremost on the minds of Canadian Space Agency officials.
“A big aspect for us here at the agency is to prepare his return in the next few weeks — rehabilitation, physical reconditioning, adapting back to life at 1G,” said Gilles Leclerc, the agency’s director of space exploration.
Saint-Jacques is expected to take part in a news conference on Friday from Houston and will return to Canada in mid-July to visit the agency, just south of Montreal.
As for the next mission, Leclerc said negotiations are underway to have another member of the corps serve aboard the International Space Station before 2024.
—By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal.
The Canadian Press