Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen may take first space trip in next five years

Jeremy Hansen speaking to a crowd at Johnson Space Center.
Image Credit: Wikicommons

MONTREAL - Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen has taken part in geological expeditions in the High Arctic and even lived in caves underground for several days.

He's now adding a week living in an underwater environment to his credentials which he hopes will get him into space by 2020.

Hansen, who was born in London, Ont., says no specific time frame is being discussed, but the Canadian astronaut feels he'll be taking his first trip into space by 2020.

"I guess if you got inside my head and you understood what I'm thinking, I kind of have a feeling that I'm going to fly in this decade," he told The Canadian Press in an interview Friday.

NASA has said no Canadians will be heading up to the International Space Station anytime soon because all flights have been booked through the end of 2016.

Another opportunity could open up in 2019-2020.

Hansen, a CF-18 fighter pilot, noted that for the first time time in history, commercial companies like SpaceX in the United States are building rockets that will take humans to space.

He said that would drive down the cost of space travel.

"Everything is going to change," Hansen said, predicting the future looks bright for Canadians in space.

"When I look into the future, I think the 2020s are just going to be a heyday in space, there's going to be a lot going on and I'm still planning to stick around and be a part of it if I can.

"But most importantly I think what that says — especially to young Canadians— is that we're going to have a space program that's growing (and) there are going to be more and more Canadians flying in space."

Hansen, 38, made the comments during an interview from Aquarius, an undersea laboratory about six kilometres off Key Largo in Florida.

He's been a member of the NEEMO 19 mission, which has been taking place under 19 metres of water in conditions that closely resemble a space environment.

NEEMO stands for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations.

Hansen, who is due to surface Sunday. has been doing spacewalk simulations and testing tools and techniques that could be used to deal with the different levels of gravity that would be encountered on asteroids, Mars and its moons.

"What I see everybody focusing on is developing infrastructure that's going to allow us to go to multiple destinations," he said.

Back in 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama challenged NASA to send astronauts to an asteroid. But reaction in the American Congress to such a mission has been lukewarm at best.

"The asteroid is a commonly debated topic," Hansen said. "NASA talks a lot about going to an asteroid, but certainly at the Canadian Space Agency, we haven't made any commitments to going to an asteroid yet, (but) it doesn't mean we wouldn't."

He said the ultimate goal is to go to Mars.

Hansen's underwater habitat is similar in size to modules on the International Space Station and he and his fellow crew members experienced some of the challenges they would in space — including delays in their communications with the surface.

"When we go to Mars or an asteroid for example, we will have a significant communications delay, so down here, in this mission, we're simulating a five-minute communication delay each way," he said.

Hansen's colleagues include NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen and Herve Stevenin, head of the ESA's extra-vehicular training.

Fellow Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques was involved in a NEEMO mission in 2011, while retired astronauts Chris Hadfield, Dave Williams and Bob Thirsk took part in earlier missions.

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