By Linda Scales
If you could travel into space, what would you take? This is now more than a purely theoretical question for six uOttawa alumni who have made it onto an elite shortlist. They’re in the running to become Canadian astronauts.
Since 1983, only 12 Canadians have ever become astronauts. Ten of them, including Chris Hadfield and the Honourable Marc Garneau, Julie Payette and Roberta Bondar, are now retired. The Canadian Space Agency is looking to recruit two more future space travellers to join current astronauts David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen.
Earlier this month, the CSA released the names of 72 Canadians who have been shortlisted from a pool of 3,772 applicants. An impressive six—five men and a woman—have University of Ottawa connections. The Gazette asked them what they would take from their uOttawa experience into space if they were successful in achieving this next career milestone.
Update: In April 2017, Dr. Michelle Whitty and Dr. Robert Riddell were among the 17 candidates still in the running. The final selection of Canada’s next two astronauts will be made in June.
Marc Evans (BASc 2007, Mechanical Engineering) works for Med-Eng, an Ottawa company that develops bomb disposal robots and other specialized equipment for explosive ordnance disposal.
“The real value of engineering schools is not that they output great designers but rather they train professional problem solvers. That skill is so broadly applicable in the world and is absolutely critical for astronauts who need to operate with a high level of independence once in space. Just think of all the emergency situations that could occur on the International Space Station or a mission to Mars and how important it would be for the crew to be able to quickly detect, diagnose and solve the problem before a situation becomes unrecoverable. The University of Ottawa did an excellent job training us in problem solving methodology and I believe that is one of the most important skills I would bring with me on a trip to space.”
John Jamieson (PhD 2013, Earth Sciences) is the Canada Research Chair in marine geology at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He also teaches courses in marine exploration and economic geology.
“It was during my PhD at uOttawa under the supervision of Mark Hannington that I developed my identity not only as a scientist but as an explorer. My research into seafloor hydrothermal systems led to my participation in several research cruises, where I not only dove to the bottom of the ocean in manned submersibles but also gained valuable experience in the use of autonomous and remotely operated deep sea exploration vehicles. These experiences have shaped my current research trajectory as a marine explorer and scientist and were likely a major factor in my making the shortlist.”
Michelle Whitty (MD 2016) is a qualified combat engineering officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. She started her medical training after serving in Afghanistan and is now doing a residency in family medicine.
“My time at uOttawa has been instrumental in creating who I am today and is a major contributing factor in how far I’ve come in this selection process. If I become one of Canada’s next space explorers, the medical knowledge I’ve been acquiring during lectures, group-based learning and clinical rotations will allow me to improve our understanding of the effects of space on the human body and to practise medicine in space, possibly allowing for longer space missions.”
Kharim Schliewinsky (family medicine residency) is a Canadian Armed Forces doctor working in Ottawa. A passionate scuba diver, he also specializes in assessing divers for the demands of military diving.
“One very important quality impressed on me by my family medicine preceptors is curiosity. I use it daily when dealing with difficult clinical cases. It helps me stay vigilant of my surroundings, improves my connection with people and helps me explore, investigate and understand problems. It’s a quality I think is important for every astronaut.”
Robert Riddell (BSc 2007, Biochemistry) is a physician with the Canadian Armed Forces working in Ottawa and abroad.
"Unlike any job on Earth, being an astronaut would allow me to draw on the knowledge that I have gained from my formal education and the unique experiences I have had as a military officer and rural physician. I have thrived mentally and physically in some of the world's most hostile environments, and it would be an honour to build on this as a Canadian astronaut. Through the realm of space exploration, I would continue to push my own limits as well as the boundaries of science, medicine and technology." (Source: Canadian Space Agency)
Shane Journeay (BSc 2001, Human Kinetics; MA 2003, Human Kinetics) began his academic career at uOttawa. Today, he is a physician who helps rehabilitate patients with injuries to the brain, spinal cord and musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems.
“It was at the University of Ottawa in the School of Human Kinetics where my scientific interests in human spaceflight began to grow. I took a keen interest in environmental physiology and its implications for astronauts. While I was developing my scientific skill set in human physiology, it was professors Glen Kenny and Francis Reardon who supported me and encouraged me to further explore my interests in this area. If I could take one memory into space from uOttawa, it would be their words of encouragement. If it was a physical item, I think I would take a copy of my first publication with professors Kenny and Reardon.”
Find out more about what it takes to become an astronaut. Ever wonder whether astronauts are scared or lonely in space? How do they go to the bathroom, and what’s the salary range for this career path? Find the answers to everything you wanted to know about being an astronaut on the Canadian Space Agency FAQs page.
Find out who made it onto the astronaut candidate shortlist.
Read about Canadian astronauts’ involvement with CSA-funded research on the effects of long-term space travel on astronauts conducted at uOttawa.