Growing up, little Jeremy Hansen looked up at the stars in his tree house decorated as a spaceship, going on daring outer space missions. When he made it to high school, Jeremy was granted the same view of the stars as I was, seeing as we both hail from the same small town of Ingersoll, Ontario. The view of space from the Southwestern Ontario countryside wasn't good enough for Jeremy though, and as a child he was fascinated by astronauts, dreaming that one day he might become one.
The road to space is not always a clear one, and Jeremy didn't know quite how he would go about becoming an astronaut. When he was young, an aircraft captured his interest: the CF-18 Hornet fighter jet. He knew flying these fighters was a career path that could be easily mapped out, so after his final year at Ingersoll District Collegiate Institute (the high school we both attended), he enrolled in the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he would learn to fly their CF-18 Hornets. On the academic side of life, Hansen went to the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean, Quebec and then continued onto the Royal Military College of Canada, in Kingston, Ontario.
While in Kingston, he heard Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire (now a Canadian senator) speak of the tragic Rwandan Genocide only shortly after the atrocity took place. Hearing this forthright and honest talk on an event of that magnitude was a very powerful moment in his time there, yet two other speakers would effect his life more--Canadian astronauts Julie Payette and Chris Hadfield. He had a few opportunities to meet with Chris Hadfield, and during this time he was able to grill Commander Hadfield on all manner of space-related queries. Through asking Chris questions, he learned that he in fact could get into a space career through his current one. Hadfield himself was in fact an CF-18 Hornet Fighter pilot, and Jeremy had the qualifications that the Canadian Space Agency tended to look for.
Yet, as Jeremy became more educated, he realized how slim the odds were that he would become a Canadian astronaut and decided to never get his hopes up. When applications came around for Canada's newest batch of astronaut recruits, Hansen and his wife had discussions about what the future of the application could be. Although the chances were low, and he would probably never be chosen. He was confident that, and thought to himself, that he would be able to do the job (and do it well) if given the chance. But he also realized that there were several others who could do it just as well, possibly better. Upon learning about Jeremy's impressive education (Bachelor of Science in Space Science--First Class Honours and Master of Science in Physics) I would personally have been surprised if he didn't get in. Despite this, Jeremy was shocked when he heard the news that he had been accepted in the Canadian astronaut training program alongside David Saint-Jacques in May 2009, making our small town of Ingersoll proud.
Feelings of disbelief, privilege and honour went through him after hearing the results. Imagine: achieving your wildest childhood dream in real life. I had asked, simply, why he had wanted to be an astronaut. He told me that as the years went by, there had been many different reasons. At first it was the excitement of the exploration and the challenge of dangerous space missions. But after growing up a bit, that's only one small factor. Now Jeremy is considering the importance and possible benefits to humanity that his missions could offer, and the privilege of looking down upon Earth as he's leaving.
How do you even train to be an astronaut? He agreed that it was a concept that was hard to grasp, seeing as there was no definitive skills required to be an astronaut. He's learning a variety of things, some that seem obvious and some that he didn't expect he would need to learn. He's learning fine and broad points of robotics, partaking in spacewalk training (which includes wearing an authentic spacewalk outfit in a pool of water), and now...geology? That one confused me a bit, and indeed it confused him at first as well. This summer Jeremy will be heading to the Canadian Arctic to research a meteor impact crater. This will help them with regard to potential future Canadian Space missions (which may happen in the span of his career), if and when Canadian astronauts leave low-Earth orbit again. What this could mean is that Canadians would possibly have the chance to research and explore the moon or even “another planetary body in our solar system." Trust me, if the first person ever to go to Mars is from Ingersoll, I'll be bragging. Unfortunately, nothing has been confirmed yet, so I suppose Jeremy and the rest of us will just have to wait and see.
Waiting is something that Jeremy expected, and understands. At this point, he has no idea when or what his first mission to Space may be. The thing is, as Jeremy said, there are other options now for Canadians to go into space. With the birth of the space tourism market, some wealthy Canadians could make it up there around the same time that he does (Quebec's Cirque du Soleil creator Guy Laliberté has already been a Space tourist, for example). More than likely, his first mission in Space will be similar to Hadfield's. It would be half a year in Space, doing scientific experiments and generally maintaining the International Space Station (ISS). Upon asking Jeremy what he felt the Hadfield mission provided for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), he mentioned that one thing for sure was increasing public awareness. Awareness of Canada's involvement in space, the fact we even have a space agency, and the idea that there is an International Space Station that is regularly inhabited by astronauts around the world. Another lesson that he believes Hadfield taught was the idea of how we may be a world split into several cities, provinces, countries, and continents, but from up in Space it's more noticeable than ever that we're a global society. A powerful lesson very relevant to our modern world.
Our shared hometown of Ingersoll, Ontario also taught Jeremy a valuable life lesson--respect for community. Ingersoll may not provide us with an abundance to do in our free time, but we do have people. People we can rely on and with whom we can learn about the reliance of neighbours and friends. He told me sometimes people can forget how important it can be to be able to depend on the integrity and kindness others, but Ingersoll has made sure he'll never forget.
At the end of our interview, I asked if he had any advice for people who may want to be astronauts, and I found out that he asked the same question to Chris Hadfield when he was on his way to his future career. What Hadfield told Jeremy was, in Jeremy's opinion, the best advice he could have given. He was told to follow his passion. You could learn how other astronauts made it to where they are now, but that isn't likely to be your path. By doing this, following your passion, no matter where you end up career-wise, it will have been an incredibly worthwhile journey in itself.
One final note: although I asked, he wouldn't tell me his favourite IDCI teacher, so in case one decided to read this, tough luck.