Storytime in Space: Canadian Astronaut Reads 'Explorers Club' Children's Book in Orbit

After just two weeks in space, it looks like rookie Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques is feeling comfortable in microgravity. On Dec. 18, he read a new e-book in space while "launching" to the International Space Station ceiling, dodging pretend asteroids and making creative rocket noises and cries of excitement along the way.

The father of three small children is featured heavily in the new Canadian Space Agency book, called "The Explorers Club." Saint-Jacques did the reading in French, but the book is also available in English. Both English and French versions are free on the CSA's website. The book is also available for the iOS app store and Google Play. You can check it out here.

The reading, whose earthly component was hosted at CSA headquarters at Longueuil, Quebec (near Montreal) attracted 125 students from Saint-Jacques' former elementary school, the Montreal-area Des Saints-Anges School. CSA also broadcast the event via livestream. [Canada Celebrates Launch of First Astronaut in 6 Years]

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques read the new e-book "Explorers Club" aloud on the International Space Station.
(Image credit: CSA)

The picture book follows the fictional adventures of the Explorers Club, made up of the children Niko, Layla, Mathias and Gemma and their dog Chewie, "the most adventurous dog in the universe — or at least, in his neighborhood."

The club decides to build a rocket ship to visit Saint-Jacques in space after he suddenly appears on what the kids thought was a broken television. In the book, Saint-Jacques inspires the kids with a short speech ending with his mission motto, "Dare to Explore." 

The children's "spaciest spaceship to ever visit space" encounters many fun adventures along the way, including seeing the International Space Station, the robotic Canadarm2 and the Northern Lights (one of the research priorities for Canada, a northern country).

Part of larger literacy push

Saint-Jacques and his wife, Veronique Morin, read nightly to their three small children when he was on the ground. Because Saint-Jacques wanted to continue the tradition in space, the CSA took the opportunity to create an event where more children could participate.

The book is aimed at ages 4 to 8, spanning a group that includes children who are "pre-readers" (kids who don't know how to read, but could have the book narrated to them) and children who can read. To ensure the text was age-appropriate, CSA teamed up with a Vancouver-area firm called Pug Pharm that has experience in creating reading products for children, CSA officials said.

Uploads to the space station sometimes can be a little slow, so Saint-Jacques had a paper-based version of the book (with key images) just in case the app on his iPad didn't work, CSA spokesperson Annie Belanger, who is part of the outreach team assigned to Saint-Jacques' mission, told Space.com. 

This event is just one of a network of activities that Saint-Jacques is taking part in to bring a love of literacy and science to children. He participated in Canada's Science Literacy Week this past September. Starting in October, the agency began a "Wanted: Creative Writers" contest aimed at all Canadians ages 9 and up, divided into three age categories (9 to 12 years old, 12 to 15 years old and 16 and over). The deadline is Dec. 31 and you can get more details at this link. Saint-Jacques may read some of the entries from space.

CSA is also offering opportunities to do science with Saint-Jacques. For the Little Inventors initiative, children drew possible science experiments for space; the contest closed Dec. 21. Kids can also take part in an ongoing collaboration with the nonprofit Let's Talk Science to measure environmental conditions in a room, or another joint project with the European Space Agency and Kids Code Jeunesse to develop Astro Pi programs for space station computers.

And there are many more activities to come, including a children's game and an opportunity to measure radiation (as kids did before during Chris Hadfield's mission in 2012-13). A full list of mission activities past, present and future is available at this CSA website.

A unique moment

Saint-Jacques is the first Canadian astronaut to visit the space station since Hadfield. He arrived at the orbiting complex on Dec. 3 along with the rest of the Expedition 58 crew — NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko. 

Belanger said the agency is taking the opportunity of a Canadian in space to promote science among schoolchildren, while interest is high. The impact is already substantial; the Let's Talk Science initiative alone will touch 1,000 classrooms, she said. [Best Kids' Space Books for the Holidays]

"It really shows how a space mission can inspire students to learn more about space and STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] in general," she said.

While Saint-Jacques was featured in a more public relations-heavy event today, one of his projects in orbit will be participating in nine Canadian experiments ranging from science investigations to technological demonstrations. You can read more about those experiments in this Space.com article; according to the CSA Twitter feed, Saint-Jacques has already done work for the Vection and MARROW experiments.

These Canadian investigations are just a handful of the more than 200 experiments a typical space station crew performs on top of maintenance and other space station operations.

The Canadian e-book is the latest in several children's books that have made it to the space station. In past years, a nonprofit organization called "Story Time for Space" sent several print books for kids to the orbiting complex, which astronauts read aloud. You can read about some of their past books on this 2015 article.

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