This week Perseverance landed on Mars, the latest rover sent to explore the Red Planet. The excitement of space exploration always stimulates my imagination.
When the first astronauts went up in space I attended elementary school. Televisions on tall carts were wheeled into our classrooms and we watched wide eyed as the rockets took off. The excitement of the count down kept us all on the edge of our seats; three, two, one, blast off!
With only male astronauts, most little girls didn’t even consider going into space, myself included. Still, as men first circled the earth and then the moon, finally landing there in 1969, dreams of space travel were limitless.
In 1983, Canada chose their first astronauts and among the men, a woman, Roberta Bondar. She followed Marc Garneau as the second Canadian in space flying on the Space Shuttle Discovery. In 1992, the Canadian Space agency wanted a new group of astronauts. How did they look for astronauts? They put advertisements in local papers. There in the Career’s section of the Saturday Gazette it said, The Canadian Space Agency Seeks Astronauts.
I had been working as a technician in a cancer research laboratory. My boss’s research grants were not going to be renewed and so I needed another job. A fellow at the camera club who applied on to be an astronaut in the previous search expressed pride at his rejection letter. So I thought, why not.
Surprisingly, I could say yes to all the qualifications to become an astronaut. You had to be a Canadian citizen, have at least a Bachelor’s degree from a recognized university in engineering, physical science, biological science, medicine or mathematics. They only wanted at least three years of related professional experience and the candidate needed good communication and presentation skills and would undergo demanding physical and psychological examinations. So I applied, highlighting my background in a scientific lab with expertise working with instruments, biological and immunological assays, designing experiments, trouble shooting and working both independently and in a a team all abilities suitable for a payload specialist.
When I received the ‘we regret to inform you letter’ from the Canadian Space Agency, I expected it. Over 5000 Canadians applied and according to the letter; “ the Agency has had the challenging task of selecting a relatively small number of candidates from among the many diverse and interesting applications received. Your submission was carefully considered, but we are unfortunately unable to offer you employment. However, your application form will be kept on file for a period of six months. Should a suitable position become available within this period we will be pleased to communicate with you again.” I had no further communication.
The Canadians chosen to train as astronauts in 1992 included Chris Hadfield, Michael McKay, Julie Payette and Dave Williams but not me.
I must admit in my heart of hearts I didn’t really want to go into space. It is fun imagining being there but after training for years, the end result of all your work is to climb into a tiny capsule above a bomb to be blasted into space. I will be happy to watch from my armchair as a Canadian astronaut flies to the moon in 2023 on the Artemis II mission.