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What It’s Like Being Canada’s First Female Astronaut

Dr. Roberta Bondar on the 25th anniversary of her trip to space aboard Discovery—her mission then, and now

Dr Roberta Bondar seen inside Discovery space craft in a 1992 photograph

In 1992, when Dr. Roberta Bondar stepped into the space shuttle Discovery and made history by becoming the first neurologist in space and Canada’s first female astronaut, the experience not only changed her perspective, it helped guide her life’s work. As a scientist, photographer and guest speaker, Dr. Bondar is much in demand, but took time from her hectic schedule to speak with us.

CAA: How did your flight into space change you as a person?  

RB: [There was] the emotional aspect of representing my country when I flew in space, but also, representing the international community reset my thinking about who I am and what my responsibilities really were going forward. I felt like my space flight reshaped what my global commitment would have to be. It would have to be to Canada, but it would have to be as a Canadian to the world.

Discovery makes its ascent into space, its engines flaring behind it and large plumes of smoke covering the area 

CAA: What was your favourite memory of the mission aboard Discovery?

RB: The most treasured experience of the whole flight was being able to see Canada from space. It gave me a great sense of pride, accomplishment and a feeling that I was doing something for my country at a time in my life when everything came together—all of my education.

CAA: Jennifer Sidey, one of Canada’s newest astronauts, said that you inspired her career. What do you think about that?

RB: That’s one of the things we were told when we were hired in ’83—that we were expected to be the face and the voice for those who didn’t have the same kind of reach for other Canadians.

CAA: What projects are you currently doing with the Roberta Bondar Foundation that are near and dear to your heart?

RB: One is the travelling exhibition called Light in the Land—The Nature of Canada, with 14 large, exhibition photo frame images of each province and territory. They are pretty much all photos of national parks in Canada. The 14th image—a brilliant red maple tree—represents Canada.

The other program is the Bondar Challenge, which connects children with nature through the eye of the camera. We supply the cameras and ask them to photograph something they see in a natural environment and then write about it. We are hoping that they will fall in love with the environment, because obviously if you fall in love with something, then you want to protect it.

Dr Roberta Bondar wearing an orange space suit while posing in front of American and Canadian flags in a 1992 photograph 

Learn more about headline-making Canadians

From hockey great Hayley Wickenheiser to former The National host Peter Mansbridge, CAA has interviewed a wide range of Canuck personalities. Read more about them in our People section.

Image Credits: Courtesy of NASA