This year’s roster of Gold Medal recipients at The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Annual College of Fellows Dinner is truly out of this world. From brain surgeons to rocket scientists, each one of the seven former and current Canadian astronauts attending the dinner has made achievements in the broad field of geography and been a part of important national and international events. Learn more about each astronaut receiving a medal below.
Dr. Roberta Bondar
Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Dr. Roberta Bondar was part of the first group of Canadian astronauts selected in 1983. The neurologist became the second Canadian and the first Canadian woman in space on mission STS-42 aboard Discovery in 1992. During that mission, she conducted scientific experiments in the First International Microgravity Laboratory. After her career in the CSA, she continued her medical research at NASA conducting experiments to find connections between the effects of microgravity on astronauts and neurological illnesses on Earth. Bondar is also a gifted speaker and photographer who brings a unique perspective to her work.
In 1984, Marc Garneau made history becoming the first Canadian in space on mission STS-41G. About a decade later, the Quebec City-born engineer and retired naval captain made history again becoming the first non-American Capsule Communicator for mission STS-65 (1994) and the first Canadian to fly in space twice on mission STS-74 (1996). Garneau was appointed president of the Canadian Space Agency in 2001. Four years later, he left to pursue a career in politics — he currently a Liberal MP for the Westmount—Ville-Marie riding of Montreal.
Dr. Steve MacLean
Dr. Steve MacLean began astronaut training in 1984 along with the first wave of Canadian astronauts. In 1992, the Ottawa-born laser physicist served as payload specialist for mission STS-52 aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. MacLean also served as Chief Science Advisor for the International Space Station and was later appointed the Director General of the Canadian Astronaut Program. During his second space flight ten years later on mission STS-115, he became the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm2. In 2008, MacLean was appointed president of the Canadian Space Agency and resigned in 2013 to pursue scientific research in the private sector. MacLean is also an avid supporter of science literacy and education.
Dr. Robert Thirsk
Dr. Robert Thirsk was selected among the first group of Canadian astronauts selected in 1983 and was involved in the research and planning of numerous CSA projects before going to space. In 1996, the B.C.-native took his first spaceflight, and the longest ever by a Canadian astronaut, as a Payload Specialist on mission STS-78. In 2009, the mechanical engineer and medical doctor launched aboard Soyuz TMA-15 marking the start of Canada’s first long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station. He retired from the Canadian Space Agency in 2012 and now serves as Chancellor of the University of Calgary. Thirsk is promoter of education in Canada and has helped to develop space-related curriculum.
Dr. Dave Williams
As a former emergency room physician, Dr. Dave Williams completed basic training for the Canadian Astronaut Program in 1993 and was appointed manager of the Missions and Space Medicine Group. Williams’ first spaceflight was mission STS-90 in 1998 where he served as Mission Specialist 3 and helped the crew conduct 26 life science experiments. From 1998 to 2002, the Saskatoon-born astronaut became the first non-American to hold a senior position at the Johnson Space Centre as Director of the Space and Life Sciences Directorate. During his second and final space flight, mission STS-118 in 2007, he served as Mission Specialist and performed a record-breaking three space walks during a single mission. Williams retired from the Canadian Space Agency in 2008.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jeremy Hansen was one of two candidates selected in the third Canadian Astronaut Recruitment Campaign in 2009. Prior to that, Hansen served as a CF-18 fighter pilot and Combat Operations Officer with the Canadian Forces. In 2011, Hansen completed astronaut training and while he waits for his first spaceflight, the Ontario-born astronaut is currently working as Capsule Communicator for the ISS at NASA’s Mission Control Centre.
Prior to becoming an astronaut, David Saint-Jacques studied astrophysics and medicine, serving as Co-chief of Medicine at Inuulitsivik Health Centre in Puvirnituq, Nunavik. In 2009, he was one of only two candidates selected to take part in the third Canadian Astronaut Recruitment Campaign. Saint-Jacques graduated from astronaut training in 2011 and was assigned to the Robotics Branch of the Astronaut Office. That same year, he participated in an underwater mission, NEEMO 15.
Born in Reykjavik, Iceland, Bjarni Tryggvason came to Canada as a child where he studied engineering and worked as a meteorologist and research associate. In 1983, he was selected as one of the Canadian Space Agency’s first six astronauts and trained as a back up payload specialist for the Canex-2 experiments. In 1997, he completed his first and only spaceflight as a payload specialist aboard space shuttle Discovery on mission STS-85 and conducted experiments relating to spacecraft vibrations. In his career, Tryggvason has written more than 50 published papers and holds three patents.