Jeremy Hansen: A man on a mission

By Kerry Turner

In March 2008, for the third time in Canada’s space history, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) began a search for the next generation of astronauts. After a grueling, year-long selection process, Colonel Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques were selected from a pool of 5,350 hopefuls. On April 3, 2023, 12 years after he graduated from astronaut candidate training, it was announced that Hansen would be one of a crew of four on NASA’s Artemis II mission.

Hansen, a self-described shy farm boy from Ailsa Craig, ON, will be the first CSA astronaut to fly around the moon. “When I was young, I wanted to be a farmer or an astronaut,” recounts Hansen. “Those can seem really far apart but they’re not really.  I find a lot of similarities between the jack of all trades skill sets required to be a farmer and to be an astronaut, and a lot of the practical skills that are really helpful for an astronaut and the duties we perform. I actually see a lot of similarities, including the expectation of hard work.”

The hard work started early. His interest in aviation was piqued when he attended an airshow in London, ON as a boy. Hansen went on to earn his glider pilot wings at 16, and his private pilot licence and wings at 17. Hansen graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in Kingston with a bachelor of science in space science (first class honours) and a master of science in physics.

Managing real risks

Colonel Hansen joined the Canadian Forces at the age of 18, completed his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the Royal Military College of Canada, and then started military pilot training. He was selected to complete CF-18 fighter jet training at 410 Squadron. Colonel Hansen then completed two tours with 441 and 409 Tactical Fighter Squadrons. Photo courtesy of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.

As an astronaut Hansen has been through many training programs with several space agencies, one of which involved spending six days in caves in Italy. “It’s probably one of the riskiest things I’ve ever done. It’s just a really challenging environment. And it’s an environment where you have to be completely switched on with all of you firing together as a team to make sure nobody gets injured and you make good decisions. That’s really what it provides for us − a truly operational environment,” notes Hansen.

Hansen would later be selected to lead a NASA astronaut class. “It was just a great opportunity and a really, really enriching experience for me, spending all that time with that class, going through all of those challenges with them. We hire a group at the same time and kind of bunch them together. Then we create a syllabus for getting them through astronaut candidate training, which is sort of like a rite of passage, if you will. When people show up here in Houston, they have to have certain skill sets and they have to meet certain expectations that they’ll be able to perform.

“It takes about two years to put them through all that training. We ask a lot of them and push them pretty hard. We’re trying to get them through and get them all the training they need during that time period. At the end of that two years, they are considered assignable to a space mission,” says Hansen.

Shown here (L to R), mission specialist Hansen, pilot Victor Glover, commander Reid Wiseman and mission specialist Christina Hammock Koch, will lift off after November 2024 on the approximately 10-day mission from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Over the course of about two days, they will check out Orion’s systems and perform a targeting demonstration test relatively close to Earth before beginning the trek toward the moon.Photo by NASA/James Blair.

He emphasizes that you can train anyone in a simulator but “it is when their decisions actually determine whether they live or die that they develop operational skills.” Hansen already had significant operational skills honed in the military when he entered astronaut candidate training. “The main skillset I have as an astronaut is the ability to make decisions when it’s not crystal clear to me what the right answer is based on a limited set of data. You have to be able to filter; you slow down and gather more data in those situations when you need to make a quick decision; no decision means certain death or a certain failure. You need the ability to just make a decision. The astronaut corps has continued to refine that skill. It’s critical to have confidence that in a moment of dire need, you will either succeed or you’ll die while trying.”

Getting things done

As he prepares for his first trip into space, Hansen is particularly proud of Canada’s role and is hopeful it will showcase Canada on the international stage. In terms of his own achievement, Hansen says “It’s a tremendous opportunity and super exciting for me. I’m still kind of easing into it. There is lots of training ahead. It does feel like there’s a lot to do between now and launch but it’s a development mission so as we find things along the way, we can delay the launch if we need to.”

Opportunities in space exploration

When Hansen was aspiring to be an astronaut there were limited opportunities but he always had the support of his parents. “They were definitely very encouraging. I remember thinking I need to pick something more realistic. My parents knew that probably was not likely for me given the statistics of how many people of my generation get to have this opportunity. That’s important to highlight because it is changing. The commercializing of space will really enable the younger generation to have many more opportunities with respect to space exploration and working in leveraging space for the benefit of humanity, which is where there are many more opportunities right now.

“My parents let people know I had that interest and those people guided me and helped me find a path that eventually ended up here. It’s never a straight path, but a lot of people helped me along the way,” says Hansen.

“I have been on both sides of selection. I will tell you this, if Canada needed a thousand astronauts, we could find a thousand astronauts. There are a thousand people capable of doing that. No problem. You need a fair methodology to basically eliminate unqualified people, but also to eliminate a bunch of qualified people.”