Jason Leuschen’s passion for space first launched with a trip to the science fair.
“It was kind of nerd nirvana,” he recalled in an interview from Ottawa Tuesday.
In grade 7, Leuschen attended the Canada-wide science fair in Windsor, Ont., where he met Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau.
“He was describing his day-to-day job and what he got to do on the space shuttle at the time,” he said.
“It was with the certainty of a 12-year-old I would say, ‘You know what? I want to do that, and I think I could be really good at it.”
Now, the boy who grew up on a farm in Bruno, Sask. has a chance to prove his worth.
Leuschen, a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, is on a shortlist of 72 candidates to become Canada’s next astronaut.
“They’re screening us in every way possible,” he said, adding the Canadian Space Agency closely guards details on the process.
The University of Saskatchewan engineering graduate made the list from a pool of around 3,700 entries.
Leuschen said he finished a round of testing last week and will undergo more interviews before further review takes place.
The pilot was born in B.C., but moved with his family to a farm in Bruno, Sask. at the age of three.
“I really fell in love with the sky, spent a lot of time staring up at it,” he said.
“The stories of people who got to go up there and work sounded pretty awesome to me. It sounded like the way to go.”
The town of Bruno, with a population of around 574, is located 90 kilometres east of Saskatoon. People there have since rallied around Leuschen’s bid since the shortlist came out a few weeks ago.
The pilot pointed out whoever does become Canada’s fourth astronaut will need to be able to take on any challenge.
“Any Canadian astronaut has to be able to do any job you could be assigned in space, really well,” he said. “Anything that breaks down, or any experiment that comes to you, you’ve got to be able to figure out what’s going on.”
Leuschen won’t have to wait too long to learn whether he’ll be called up to work in space.
Canada’s next astronaut is set to begin training at NASA in Houston, Texas this August.