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Marc Garneau, Liberal leadership hopeful and Canada's first man in space, tries out a moonbuggy built by the Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute moonbuggy team in Toronto on Thursday, March 7, 2013.

Jessica Galang/The Canadian Press

Students at a Toronto school named for a Canadian astronaut turned politician got a boost for their own space dreams from the man himself on Thursday.

Marc Garneau, Liberal leadership hopeful and Canada's first man in space, paid a visit to his namesake high school to confer with a group of students taking part in a modern-day NASA program.

The space agency's moonbuggy race invites high school and university students from around the world to build a vehicle and compete in a race at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

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The competition will see a male and female driver shepherd their moonbuggies through terrain and obstacles similar to what astronauts faced in the original Apollo program that put the first man on the moon.

The Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute moonbuggy team, consisting of six students, is the only Canadian high school group participating in next month's race in Huntsville, Ala.

Garneau praised the team's progress, saying supporting innovative youth is a worthwhile break from the leadership campaign trail.

"I always am impressed when I have contact with young people, but most of the kids I contact are in university," Garneau said. "Here you have high school students that are pretty darn impressive."

Garneau still found time to highlight his political platform in his address to students.

Garneau has often stressed the need for a knowledge-based economy in his bid to helm the Liberal party. He told students that young innovators will be the key to attracting business to Canadian soil.

"There is a tremendous amount of talent here in Canada and what they need is help from the federal government to get it going," he said.

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Garneau's message was well-received by at least one moonbuggy team member who believes her school's namesake should be Canada's next prime minister.

"We need more scientists who are willing to be politicians right now because we need innovation in this country," said Theodora Blidaru.

"A few days ago, the first HIV case was cured, and we need things like that to happen in Canada."

The Liberal leadership vote will take place during the week of April 7 to 14.

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