SPECIAL REPORT

THE RIGHT STUFF

A NEW GENERATION PREPARES TO REACH FOR THE STARS

BARBARA WICKENS July 6 1992
SPECIAL REPORT

THE RIGHT STUFF

A NEW GENERATION PREPARES TO REACH FOR THE STARS

BARBARA WICKENS July 6 1992

THE RIGHT STUFF

SPECIAL REPORT

A NEW GENERATION PREPARES TO REACH FOR THE STARS

When Julie Payette, a Montreal computer engineer, learned on June 9 that she was one of Canada's four newest astronauts, she dealt with her intense relief in her usual coolheaded manner: by doing “bricks.” Bricks, used in training for the gruelling triathlons in which she competes, consist of running a kilometre as fast as possible, cycling at top speed for three minutes—then repeating those steps three times. “At the end, your legs feel like bricks,” says Payette, “but it clears your mind completely.” Payette’s discipline will serve her well when she and her three new colleagues report next week to the Canadian Space Agency in Ottawa to begin astronaut training. “It was not an easy task,” says MacDonald Evans, chairman of the agency’s selection committee.

“But in the end, the committee chose the four who had the best mix of characteristics and capabilities. They are an outstanding bunch.”

Payette, along with Calgary geophysicist Robert Stewart, Toronto physician Dafydd Williams and Maj. Chris Hadfield—a Milton, Ont., test pilot on exchange with the U.S. navy—is following in the path of other Canadian high-flyers. In 1909, John McCurdy, working with inventor Alexander Graham Bell near Baddeck, N.S., piloted the first flight in Canada aboard the Silver Dart. Toronto’s A. V. Roe Co. of Canada developed the first straight-winged aircraft to break the sound barrier without rocket power, in 1952—the Avro CF-100.

And 32 years later, Marc Garneau became the first Canadian in space, followed last January by Roberta Bondar, who returned to Earth to a hero’s welcome and is now lecturing and doing research.

In their real-life star trek, two of Canada’s next generation of astronauts may go where no Canadian has gone before. As payload specialists, Garneau and Bondar performed their designated experiments inside a shuttle. But later this month, Canada’s space agency will choose two of Canada’s nine astronauts to go to NASA headquarters in Houston, where in August they will begin the twoto four-year training program to become mission specialists. In that capacity, they would perform a wide range of duties, including retrieving satellites during a space walk. They would also operate the Canadarm— a remote-controlled device developed by Canadian researchers that was first deployed aboard a U.S. space shuttle in 1981—which can manipulate payloads weighing up to 30,000 kg.

Depending upon when they fly, Canada’s astronauts may serve on shuttle missions, help build space station Freedom starting in 1996 or orbit on board Freedom for up to three months. “Being mission specialists gives us career astronaut status,” says Hadfield, “and makes us eligible to fly on more than one mission.” The astronauts not selected

for Houston will continue their training in Canada, and may fly on missions offered by other countries with space programs.

The new foursome, selected from among 5,330 applications, clearly has the right stuff. Payette, 28, who is single, graduated with a masters of applied science in computer engineering from the University of Toronto in 1990. A concert flutist, soprano soloist and chorister, she worked for Bell Northern Research developing voice applications for computers before being selected for the space program. She shares her musical flare with Stewart, a 37-year-old associate professor and chairman of exploration geophysics at the University of Calgary—who plays flute and saxophone in clubs. Stewart was also part of a 1976 Canadian expedition to the Himalayas in Nepal, and volunteers as an instructor with the Alberta Association for Disabled Skiers.

Williams, who is married to an Air Canada pilot, Cindy Fraser, was bom in Saskatchewan but grew up in Montreal, where he earned his doctor of medicine and master of surgery degrees at McGill University. Now acting director of emergency services at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Science Centre, he started scuba diving at 13, and took up skydiving until a medical school dean requested that he stop. “I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid, but thought that as a Canadian I didn’t stand a chance,” says the 37-year-old Williams. “Then, last fall I heard rumors that the space agency might be recruiting, and I sent my résumé in even before they advertised.”

g Hadfield, who earned a masters of avia« tion systems degree from the University of £ Tennessee, has been on an exchange pro| gram at the U.S. Naval Test Facility in 5 Patuxent, Md., for the past three years. In May, he was named U.S. navy test pilot of the year. The 32-year-old Hadfield—who, with his wife, Helene, has two boys and a girl aged 5 to 9—says that he too had wanted to be an astronaut since boyhood. When he was 15, he read Carrying the Fire by Michael Collins, who stayed aboard Apollo 11 while Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin made their historic moon walk on July 20, 1969. “Collins was a superb test pilot,” says Hadfield, “and a wonderful writer.”

The new astronauts say that they want to help bring science and technology more down to earth for their fellow Canadians. But all hesitate to don the mantle of heroism themselves. “Hero worship is a little blind and I don’t want to be worshipped,” says Payette. “This is an opportunity to contribute.” Canada’s newest astronauts are preparing to soar, but their feet are clearly planted on the ground.

BARBARA WICKENS