Dr. Roberta Bondar remembers the moment she became the first Canadian female astronaut to go to space on board the space shuttle Discovery in 1992.
“It certainly wasn’t a very comfortable ride,” she recalls. “Nobody told me that the last 45 seconds [during take-off] you can’t breathe. I just said to myself, this is so far away from Star Trek and Flash Gordon. This is like the most rudimentary tin can possible. It’s like being inside a roman candle.”
Upon entering Earth’s orbit, Bondar also became the very first neurologist in space. Her studies on the impact of space travel on the human body have made her one of the world’s leading experts in that field.
As speculation ramps up about how soon humans could visit Mars, Bondar says the obstacles to sending astronauts on such a long space journey aren’t insurmountable, but adds that she thinks that we should first focus on building a moon base.
“I’ve always felt we should go to the moon. If you are going to go to Mars eventually, it’s going to be a lot farther away [than the International Space Station], so why not look at telecommunications systems, why not look at remote health issues, why not look at engineering, how do we build structures, how do we learn from being on the moon, to go farther into space?”
Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Bondar grew up during the early, heady days of the space race, an era that continues to inspire her to this day.
"Exploration is not something you retire from. It is a part of one's life ethic,” she says.
An Honorary Vice-President of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Bondar is also noted for her work as a photographer and author and for promoting the protection of the wild places left on our planet. Her latest project is AMASS, the Avian Migration Aerial Surface Space. Working with Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques, who is soon to wrap up his first mission on board the ISS, Bondar’s goal is to study and protect vital bird habitats along their migratory corridors.
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This episode is produced and sound engineered by Robin Dumas, and hosted by David McGuffin (@mcguffindavid).