MONTREAL — Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques is doing well as he continues his long journey home after a six-month stint aboard the International Space Station, the Canadian Space Agency said Tuesday.
The 49-year-old Quebec native boarded a NASA plane after landing in Kazakhstan late Monday and was expected to arrive in Houston Tuesday after a brief stopover in Scotland.
The agency said Saint-Jacques is in good health despite suffering the effects of a 400-kilometre drop to Earth.
“Despite experiencing typical post-flight symptoms like nausea, he is well,” agency spokeswoman Marie-Andre Malouin wrote in an email.
The married father of three was able to speak with his wife and parents after landing, Malouin added.
Former astronaut Robert Thirsk, who co-hosted a viewing party at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in Longueuil, Que., Monday night, said descending from space in the capsule is a shock to the body comparable to a car crash.
“In descending, the force of gravity is strong. It’s like having four people sitting on your chest,” he told the audience, which included members of Saint-Jacques’ family. “It’s hard to breathe, but you have to concentrate to make sure you breathe well and don’t get hurt.”
He added that when the parachute opens before landing, “there is a big movement like a pendulum, left to right, and the landing is a crash like a car accident.”
Thirsk, who spent 188 days on the space station in 2009, said despite the jarring impact, injuries are rare because the seats in the capsule are designed to keep the astronauts protected.
Saint-Jacques, along with NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, returned to Earth aboard a Soyuz capsule. He gave a thumbs-up as he was carried from the capsule following what NASA described as a “picture perfect” landing at 10:47 p.m. ET.
During a mission that began Dec. 3, Saint-Jacques took part in a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk and set a record for the longest single space flight by a Canadian at 204 days. He also became the first Canadian astronaut to use the Canadarm2 robotic arm to perform a so-called “cosmic catch” to snag a SpaceX cargo capsule.
The engineer, astrophysicist and family doctor also oversaw science experiments and had numerous discussions with children across the country during his mission.
His next few weeks will be spent recovering from the physical challenges of the flight and readapting to life on Earth after months in zero gravity.
Saint-Jacques is expected to spend weeks or months recovering from the after-effects of the flight, which could include blood circulation problems, muscle pains and an elongated spine that will eventually return to normal.
Raffi Kuyumjian, a doctor with the Canadian Space Agency, has said spending six months in space is “a little like having spent six months in bed without moving.”
In a recent interview, he told The Canadian Press that Saint-Jacques is likely to struggle with balance and co-ordination, as well as a loss of bone density.
Kuyumjian said Saint-Jacques will work with specialists in the gym to help him regain his muscle tone, cardio fitness, and endurance. He will also undergo a separate series of tests for research purposes, to measure how the human body reacts to space flight.
Beyond the muscle and balance issues, it’s likely Saint-Jacques could suffer from a type of reverse motion sickness Kuyumjian dubs “Earth sickness.”
“So the symptoms of nausea that generally come when astronauts arrive in space, there is the equivalent when they return to Earth,” he said.