David Saint-Jacques on why he looked so 'ghastly' when he returned to Earth
Published Wednesday, July 10, 2019 12:18PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 10, 2019 2:39PM EDT
David Saint-Jacques is looking a little better these days.
His complexion has improved. He's able to walk on his own and stand up straight. His feet aren't quite so swollen.
It's been a little over two weeks since the Canadian astronaut returned to Earth from a 204-day stint at the International Space Station.
As most astronauts do, he appeared somewhat drawn and frail as he was lifted out of the capsule that safely delivered him from orbit to a landing site in Kazakhstan.
Wednesday, at one of his first public appearances since his return, Saint-Jacques said his physical condition has significantly improved since his June 23 return, as his body has readjusted to Earth's gravity.
"You lose the sense of gravity, and that completely confuses your brain," he told an audience of students at an event at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Que.
"To this day, I'm still feeling those effects all the time."
For Saint-Jacques, the most noticeable effect of spending 204 days off-planet was what it did to his blood flow. Without the Earth's gravity, Saint-Jacques' heart didn't have to work as hard as it normally would have to pump blood to the head.
When he returned to Earth, his heart needed time to readjust.
"That's why we all look so ghastly [when we land]," he said.
"All your blood falls to your legs again. You get big red feet, and you're all pale. It takes a few days for your body to remember how to do that trick of getting blood to your head."
There have been other physical changes, too. Astronauts' feet smooth out during their stays in space, because they are able to move their bodies without walking. Spinal recoil can also leave astronauts with back pain when they return, although Saint-Jacques said he has been able to escape this particular symptom of space travel.
"He's in really good shape," Jeremy Hansen told CTV News Channel.
Hansen, who is expected to be the next Canadian astronaut to travel to the ISS, said he had spent time with Saint-Jacques since his return and found his progress to be impressive.
"It was rough on him, coming back and adjusting, but he adjusted rapidly," he said.
As Hansen explained it, returning astronauts typically need about a day of recovery before they feel they can take even a few steps and about a week to get back to regular exercise, but some of the effects of space travel linger longer.
"It takes a year before you feel like you haven't been to space," he said.
While speaking to the students, Saint-Jacques displayed several photographs of himself with his fellow astronauts aboard the space station.
He said that he considers them less colleagues or even friends than brothers and sisters – including some of the occasional difficulties that can crop up when one spends so much time with siblings in such close proximity.
Despite those occasional hiccups, he said he came away from his voyage to the "little island" of the ISS with a better understanding of how people from countries not necessarily on good diplomatic terms with each other can still work together for the common good.
"Despite all the political problems that exist … every day in space, we demonstrate that there is a path forward," he said.
"When we do choose and manage to put our differences aside, we can accomplish miracles."