Students at a school in Umiujaq in northern Quebec got a special surprise on their last day of term – the chance to talk to an astronaut still in orbit.
The satellite conversation between students at Kiluutaq School and astronaut David Saint-Jacques last Friday was thousands of kilometers in the making.
Students prepared their questions in class earlier in the week, asking standard things like “why are you at the space station?” “How do you use the toilet?” “Is the internet faster in space?” “Do you see planes fly?”
Some questions, however, were specifically related to the northern community of less than 500 people.
“Can you see Umiujaq from space?” one student asked in French.
“Yes, I can see Nunavik here from the window – it’s very easy to recognize Hudson Bay, the Lac Guillaume de l’Ile – one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my life,” Saint Jacques replied.
“We can see it very well from space.”
Saint Jacques used to be co-chief of medicine in nearby Puvirnituq.
His wife, Dr. Veronique Morin, who moderated Friday’s Q&A session, was once a village doctor in Umiujaq.
Together, the high school sweethearts share a love for Nunavik.
“I think once you live in the north, the north lives within you, and David likes to say there’s a piece of the tundra with him on board the space station,” Morin explained.
Even though he’s spent six months aboard the space station, cruising 480 kilometres above the earth while studying infectious diseases, Saint Jacques does in fact carry a piece of Quebec’s north with him on-board.
It was a heartwarming revelation for one student – a young girl inquiring about an ivory ring made by her grandfather before she was born.
Saint-Jacques raised his hand to the camera, showing off the white band still poised on his ring finger.
“I’m wearing this ring was made by Daniel Kumarluk, and if you ask Dr. Morin, my wife, she has a very similar ring because this is the ring we used to get engaged and then to get married,” he explained. “So we have a little bit of Umiujaq with us throughout our life.”
Saint-Jacques also took the opportunity to show off a sealskin cuff made by artist Victoria Okpik, and a pair of tiny artisanal mittens “for good luck.”
“I brought a few souvenirs of my life in the Arctic with me up in space,” he said.
“That was a really touching moment for everyone,” Dr. Morin explained after the Q&A. “You could feel the connection that people felt to David, and seeing a part of their own community being in space was, I think, a moment of awakening for many.”