From wide open spaces of prairies — to space

How did farm work, a clever teacher and a visit by Mark Garneau combine to convince a boy from Bruno, Sask., that he could become Canada’s next astronaut?

For Jason Leuschen, it started with his Grade 3 teacher assigning him extra work on science topics.

In Grade 7, Garneau, then a Canadian astronaut, spoke at his school and made him think he could also become an astronaut.

Leuschen’s life on a farm with little light pollution also helped him see the stars and imagine a life in space.

When the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced a search for Canada’s next astronauts, Leuschen joined about 4,000 other Canadians in the online application process. Only 1,000 were accepted for further consideration and Leuschen was one.

Recently, CSA announced 17 candidates remain but only two will be successful.

“I guess I have a one in nine chance to get picked,” Leuschen says.

The helicopter pilot trainee, based at Portage la Prairie, Man., admits he has been working his whole life to get to space.

“I always knew I could make it this far into the process. But meeting the final group was humbling.”

Like Leuschen, the other astronaut candidates have many layers of qualification.

When Leuschen left the farm, he got a degree in mechanical engineering and eventually worked for the National Research Council as an aerodynamicist. He helped develop equipment for trucks to reduce wind drag.

Eventually, Leuschen joined the RCAF to get flying experience. He says everything he has done in his life has been building toward this opportunity.

“There isn’t one way to become an astronaut,” Leuschen says. “I’m pragmatic and sometimes you have to wait to get what you want. Long-term goals are important.”

He draws on his experience with tractors and helicopters.

“From my point of view, the farm background is one of my strengths,” Leuschen says

“I have hands-on experience to fix things. On the farm, if you are out in the field and something breaks, you have to improvise in order to get back to work.”

In space, if a part is needed, it’s a long way to the nearest hardware store so Leuschen’s improvisation skills may come in handy.

If successful, Leuschen might take a bit of Saskatchewan with him into space.

“We have a bad habit in the military of leaving stickers, so maybe I might have to take a Saskatchewan Roughrider sticker to hide somewhere on the International Space Station.”

For a farm kid who studied the stars, Leuschen will find out in June if he will reach them.

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