Astronaut Saint-Jacques fields children’s questions on Santa, climate change

LONGUEUIL, Que. — Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques took a break from his scientific responsibilities aboard the International Space Station Tuesday to ponder a more profound question.

“Can you see Santa Claus from the International Space Station?” Elise asked as Grade 1 and 2 students from the elementary school Saint-Jacques attended were linked up with him at Canadian Space Agency headquarters.

Saint-Jacques’ face lit up as he promised he would do his best.

“Santa Claus, I don’t know whether we will manage to see him. We can see the North Pole from here, but it’s a little at the edge of the horizon,” he said. “We are going to try to look for him. We have good binoculars.”

The questions from the pyjama-clad students of Ecole des Saint-Anges in St-Lambert, Que. followed a story time from space, in which Saint-Jacques read a new space-themed e-book launched Tuesday by the space agency.

“The Explorers Club” tells the story of Layla, Niko, Gemma and Mathias as they set off on their own space mission to find a lost dog. It is aimed at encouraging interest in space, science and reading in young children.

Saint-Jacques took the opportunity to play the clown in space’s microgravity, spinning his microphone and shooting upwards when the rocket in the story blasted off. When a child named Matteo asked how he washed in space, Saint-Jacques spilled a few drops of water from a container to show how they float.

“Just talking to him, just saying hello to him was really impressive,” Maxence, 8, said at the end of the event. He was particularly intrigued by the absence of gravity. “I could do acrobatics and play ball,” he said.

Lilianne imagined games of floating tag and the tricks that could be played on her friends. “I don’t know how they do it, floating in all those machines,” she said. “And what surprises me is they can do almost anything they want, but instead of doing it on the ground, they do it in the air.”

The children were also interested in what Christmas in space would be like. Saint-Jacques said he and his fellow astronauts — Anne McClain of NASA and Oleg Kononenko of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos — brought special food to share the culinary traditions of their respective countries.

Some questions reflected real concerns in the minds of the children, in particular when one girl asked if Earth’s most polluted areas were visible from space.

“When we fly over large cities, we can see that there is a grey cloud over them. Air pollution is the easiest thing to see,” Saint-Jacques replied. “We can also see the effect of global warming because we can see that glaciers in the mountains are smaller now than they were 100 years ago.”

The stars of “The Explorers Club” are the children and their dog, but Saint-Jacques makes an appearance as the astronaut in the space station with a message. “Dream big and reach for the stars. Dare to explore!” he tells them.

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