From Sky to Space: Who Are the Two New Canadian Astronauts?

By Benjamin Vermette

I was pretty proud to be a Canadian on July 1, 2017. Not only was Canada’s 150th birthday a reminder of the ongoing prosperity of our nation, but it was also the occasion to reveal the two newly discovered Canadian super humans to join the astronaut corps.

Dr. Jennifer Sidey, 29, and Lieutenant-Colonel Joshua Kutryk, 35, were chosen among 3,772 other applicants from all around the country. Even though that’s 1,578 less applicants than the 2008–2009 campaign, it’s an equally glorifying accomplishment: their job is to be a Canadian ambassador to space!

Joshua Kutryk: astronaut, experimental test pilot and fighter pilot. Prior to joining the Canadian Space Program, Joshua Kutryk worked as an experimental test pilot and a fighter pilot. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

Joshua Kutryk: astronaut, experimental test pilot and fighter pilot. Prior to joining the Canadian Space Program, Joshua Kutryk worked as an experimental test pilot and a fighter pilot. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

So please meet one of Canada’s newest diplomat: LCol Joshua Kutryk. Just like Jeremy Hansen (Canadian astronaut since 2009) or Chris Hadfield (everyone knows who he is — but if you don’t, he’s the guy with the mustache that sang the David Bowie song on the International Space Station), Kutryk is a Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot.

As the eleventh male Canadian astronaut, Kutryk is probably one of the most skilled pilots of the bunch. In 2012, he was awarded the prestigious and extremely-hard-to-get Liethen-Tittle Award by the United States Air Force for being the top test pilot graduate. Coincidentally, this same award was also earned by Chris Hadfield in 1988. So, if you want to be an astronaut, just go out there and earn this award. If you can’t for whatever reason, don’t despair: the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) needs people from different backgrounds. Just follow their tips here (and wait for the next recruitment campaign): http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/astronauts/how-to-become-an-astronaut/default.asp

Canadian astronauts Joshua Kutryk (left) and Jeremy Hansen (right) seize the opportunity to fly together before the start of astronaut training. Prior to joining the Canadian Space Program, they were both pilots with the Canadian Armed Forces. In this picture, they are standing in front of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 2017 Canada 150 CF-18 Demonstration Hornet. (Canadian Space Agency)

Canadian astronauts Joshua Kutryk (left) and Jeremy Hansen (right) seize the opportunity to fly together before the start of astronaut training. Prior to joining the Canadian Space Program, they were both pilots with the Canadian Armed Forces. In this picture, they are standing in front of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 2017 Canada 150 CF-18 Demonstration Hornet. (Canadian Space Agency)

His pilot’s skills also earned him the Tristan de Koninck Trophy for F-18 flying skill in 2007. But besides the flying, Kutryk is also very proficient right here on Earth. He holds a bachelor in mechanical engineer and three masters: one in space studies, one in flight test engineering and another in defence studies. I don’t know him, but can’t say that’s not worth the astronaut title.

Jennifer Sidey of Calgary worked as a mechanical engineer, a combustion scientist and a lecturer at the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom (UK) before being selected as Canada's newest astronaut in 2017. (Canadian Space Agency)

Jennifer Sidey of Calgary worked as a mechanical engineer, a combustion scientist and a lecturer at the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom (UK) before being selected as Canada's newest astronaut in 2017. (Canadian Space Agency)

The other newly commissioned spacefarer is Dr. Jennifer Sidey, or simply Jenni. She is what half astronauts probably are: an engineer. She grew up in Calgary and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering (just like Kutryk!) from McGill University before earning a PhD in combustion engineering from Cambridge University (UK). It’s worth noting that while at McGill, she conducted research on the behaviour of combustion in microgravity. “It would be incredible to revisit some of those experiments,” she said.

Just before becoming an astronaut, Jenni was an assistant professor and lecturer in internal combustion engines at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering. In other words, she worked on developing low-emission combustors by studying the flame.

She looks young, doesn’t she? Well, Jenni Sidey was selected as an astronaut at only 28, which makes her the youngest Canadian to ever hold this title, even younger than predecessors Steve MacLean and Julie Payette, who were both selected at 29 years of age in 1983 and 1992 respectively.

Jenni Sidey completes a requirement in the second series of aptitude tests. Astronaut candidates must successully complete a series of three aptitude tests before being considered worthy of being an astronaut. The first series of aptitude tests took place in February 2017 during an intensive three-day period in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, to test the top 72 candidates' strategic thinking skills and physical fitness. In March, the remaining 32 candidates spent a full week in Halifax, Nova Scotia where they were put through emergency simulations in challenging environments to test their resilience and their ability to think and react under pressure — crucial skills in a harsh environment such as space! In April the top 17 candidates completed final robotics, communication and medical tests at the CSA headquarters (John H. Chapman Space Centre) in Longueuil, Quebec. Lastly, the remaining candidates went through one final interview with a special committee formed of CSA executives, industry experts, and current and former astronauts. (Canadian Space Agency)

Jenni Sidey completes a requirement in the second series of aptitude tests. Astronaut candidates must successully complete a series of three aptitude tests before being considered worthy of being an astronaut. The first series of aptitude tests took place in February 2017 during an intensive three-day period in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, to test the top 72 candidates' strategic thinking skills and physical fitness. In March, the remaining 32 candidates spent a full week in Halifax, Nova Scotia where they were put through emergency simulations in challenging environments to test their resilience and their ability to think and react under pressure — crucial skills in a harsh environment such as space! In April the top 17 candidates completed final robotics, communication and medical tests at the CSA headquarters (John H. Chapman Space Centre) in Longueuil, Quebec. Lastly, the remaining candidates went through one final interview with a special committee formed of CSA executives, industry experts, and current and former astronauts. (Canadian Space Agency)

As a young professor, Jenni Sidey felt she needed to act as a role model for her young female students. As a matter of fact, she is the co-founder of the Cambridge chapter of Robogals, which is an educational organization that aims to empower women all around the world by encouraging them to study and pursue a career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics) field.

Her brilliant career as a professor and as a STEM advocate for women led her to be awarded the prestigious Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award by the Institution of Engineering and Technology in 2016. With all that in her pocket, she becomes Canada’s third female astronaut (after Roberta Bondar and Julie Payette). 

 

 

Albertans were probably even prouder than me to be a Canadian on July 1 as they saw two of their citizens being appointed as the new Canadian diplomats to space.

So, one is a man and one is a woman. One is a fighter pilot and one is an engineer. Both went through an extremely competitive selection process. But both will not cease to see blood, sweat and tears as they are now required to follow an intensive two-year astronaut training program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where they will “really” learn how to become astronauts.

Only then, after those intense two years of training and learning, will they be eligible for space flight, just like their two other fellow active Canadian astronauts — Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques, who is scheduled to take off for space in November 2018.

Canadian Space Agency astronauts Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques in front of the Columbus simulator, at the European Space Agency, where they received training on January 18, 2016, on how to operate the Columbus laboratory, which is attached to the International Space Station. (ESA/Sabine Grothues)

Canadian Space Agency astronauts Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques in front of the Columbus simulator, at the European Space Agency, where they received training on January 18, 2016, on how to operate the Columbus laboratory, which is attached to the International Space Station. (ESA/Sabine Grothues)

Are they the ones that will go to Mars? Joshua Kutryk and Jenni Sidey will probably be a tiny bit old when NASA plans to land a human mission on Mars in the 2030s. But one thing is certain: they will be experienced astronauts who helped pave the way to get on the red planet. And as NASA plans on going back to the moon before landing on Mars, maybe one of them will become the first Canadian on the moon.

A safe bet would be to say that one of the future Canadian astronauts from the two next recruitment campaigns will be eligible to become Canada’s first representative on Mars. This is however super relative, as it depends on when the CSA decides to hold a recruitment campaign. Anyway, for now, let’s just joyfully cheer that the Canadian space program is alive and well!