Canada’s two new astronauts get rousing ovation at space agency

Canada’s two new astronauts get rousing ovation at space agency

Canada’s newest astronauts Jennifer Sidey and Joshua Kutryk answer questions from the audience during a visit to the Canadian Space Agency in Saint-Hubert, Que., Tuesday, July 4, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.

LONGUEUIL, Que. — Joshua Kutryk and Jennifer Sidey have no shortage of tasks to accomplish as the new Canadian astronauts navigate their space careers, but one remains high on their to-do lists: inspiring the next generation.

Kutryk, 35, of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., recounted Tuesday that seeing a Canadarm exhibit in Edmonton when he was just six years old triggered his dream to become an astronaut.

“Kids look up to us,” Kutryk said as he and Sidey visited the Canadian Space Agency south of Montreal.

“It’s a critical part of the job: everyone’s life starts somewhere.”

Kutryk is an air force pilot with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in defence studies.

Sidey, a Calgary native who has worked as a mechanical engineer, was a lecturer with the University of Cambridge.

“It’s wild, it’s certainly my hope that kids will be able to look at Josh and I and think they could be in our shoes in a couple of years time,” Sidey said. “That’s really important to me.”

Sidey has spent much of her life pushing for girls and women to get involved in the engineering field and she will use her platform to continue that.

“I’ve done a lot of work to try to make sure that engineering is for everyone,” she said.

“Engineering is just using science to make people’s lives better. That’s the only requirement. Besides that, it’s completely up to whoever wants to study it to take it where they want.”

Sidey, who turns 29 in August, says her dreams of becoming an astronaut date back to 1992 when Roberta Bondar went into space aboard the space shuttle Discovery.

She was about four when her mother helped her make a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and she fashioned her own space shuttle out of a toilet paper roll with the word “Jenni” written on it.

“And I was ready, I thought this was a wonderful thing and I had this person (Bondar) I could identify with,” she said.

Both said they have fielded calls or met with retired astronauts Bondar, Julie Payette and Dave Williams since being named Saturday.

After undergoing a gruelling recruitment process, the two new astronauts celebrated Tuesday as they scoped out the space agency where they were met with a rousing ovation and took questions from several children.

Tougher days lie ahead as they embark on a two-year training program in Houston along with a dozen new American recruits under the supervision of fellow Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen.

“It’s adapting to the environment and really settling in so much so that we can learn,” Sidey said. “Because we need to learn a lot and we need to learn it pretty quickly, so that’s a big challenge.”

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains called the new astronauts “just really good people” and role models for kids, including his own daughters, aged six and nine.

“I want them to see Jenni, I want them to look up to Jenni,” Bains said. “At such a young age, she’s accomplished so much, but she’s just a good person, she cares deeply about Canada, she’s excited about the future.”

Hansen said it’s an exciting time for the agency and that its two newest members will help shape its future.

“These two extraordinary Canadians had amazing things going on in their lives, they were doing tremendous work,” Hansen said.

“We stole them away.”

A recently convened federal space advisory board is expected to report back this summer with a long-term plan for the sector.

-Follow @sidhartha_b on Twitter.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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