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‘Extraordinary experience’: Canada’s David Saint-Jacques to launch into space Monday

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The countdown is on.

If all goes as planned, at 6:31 a.m. ET Monday, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will be riding a Russian Soyuz rocket launched from Kazakhstan, en route to the International Space Station (ISS).

Saint-Jacques will be joined by Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and American astronaut Anne McClain on the mission, with the trio set to dock with the ISS six hours later.

It’s the first time a Canadian has been in space since 2013, when Chris Hadfield gained immense popularity around the world as he provided glimpses — and the occasional musical performance — into daily life on board the orbiting laboratory.

“I don’t think I’m going to try to top what Chris did in terms of entertainment,” Saint-Jacques said. “That’s his forte.” 

Chris Hadfield, the last Canadian astronaut to go to space, became an international star after chronicling on social media what it was like living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Canadian Space Agency)

The three astronauts have been in quarantine at the Baikonur Cosmodrome since earlier this week, but friends and family will be joining them — though separated by glass — ahead of Monday’s launch.

A doctor who also holds degrees in engineering and astrophysics, as well as a commercial pilot’s licence, Saint-Jacques says he’s been moved by the rituals of the Russian space program that take place ahead of each launch.

The most “touching” ritual came two days, he said, when he planted a tree along Baikonur’s Cosmonaut Alley.

“That’s something that every first-time flyer on a Russian spacecraft has done ever since [first astronaut] Yuri Gagarin, and so I had the privilege to plant my own tree. A poplar.”

Saint-Jacques was initially scheduled to head to the ISS later this month, on Dec. 20, but his launch was moved up after the malfunction of a Soyuz rocket in October forced a dramatic emergency landing minutes after takeoff.

This could be the last time a Canadian launches on board a Soyuz: NASA is preparing to return human launches to U.S. soil beginning in 2019, with two new crew capsules provided by SpaceX and Boeing.

Medical research

During his six-and-a-half months on the ISS, Saint-Jacques will be hard at work. Astronauts conduct several experiments daily, many of which are studying the effects of weightlessness on the human body, something that keenly interests him.

“Going to space is certainly an extraordinary experience — but it’s not good for you in any way,” he said. “As a doctor, I’m well aware of everything that can go wrong, and thankfully we’ve developed a lot of mitigations and medications…. [But] that’s a big part of my personal interest: To self-monitor the symptoms and effects and [see] how we can mitigate that.”

Saint-Jacques is shown taken part in pre-launch activities, including this first Soyuz dress rehearsal. (Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center)

One aspect of Saint-Jacques’s work is telemedicine, or the ability to use technology to provide medical care from a distance.

“I used to work as a physician in a very remote Inuit village, and I know from personal experience that everything that’s developed in space for remote medicine can be applied on Earth,” he said.

And Saint-Jacques said he’ll make sure to enjoy the view. “For me, what kind of becomes me most, is to spend some time looking at the Earth.” 

Canadian astronauts

For more than nine years, Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen have been training together in preparation for launch. In 2016, the Canadian Space Agency announced Saint-Jacques would be the next to fly after Hadfield.

Hansen is thrilled that day has come for Saint-Jacques.

“I’m very excited for David.… The goal for both of us has been the same: that we would fly in space,” Hansen said. “I know it’s going to be an incredible experience for him … I just know it’s going to be a great mission.”

David Saint-Jacques gets help from Jeremy Hansen, putting on his spacesuit as he trains at a NASA facility in Houston in March 2018. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

Hansen said he’s happy he’s been able to share the experience with Saint-Jacques.

“I’m looking forward to seeing it through his eyes. I’m going to learn a lot, watching him go through this, and I plan to be on this journey with him.”

Hansen is also hoping that seeing a Canadian heading to space once again will be an inspiration to youth. Since the astronaut program started in 1983, only eight Canadians have been in space.

“I think it’s important for our young Canadians to be inspired by Canadian astronauts in space — I certainly was,” Hansen said. “It was important in my youth to see, as a Canadian, that I could fly, that I could chase that dream.”

CBC News will be covering Saint-Jacques’s launch beginning at 6 a.m. ET Monday online and on CBC News Network.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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