About three months ago, while looking for career advice on becoming an astronaut, I had the grand idea to email the Canadian Space Agency and ask to talk to someone. This turned into an afternoon research tangent, and I now present to you some basic statistics I compiled about all of the astronauts Canada has ever put out. Read on to check it out.
About three months ago, while looking for career advice on becoming an astronaut, I had the grand idea to email the Canadian Space Agency and ask to talk to someone. I think I was naively hoping that Chris Hadfield or Julie Payette would drop what they were doing and write back, seeing their fledgling selves in my writing and be overcome with nostalgia and a need to reach out. This was not the case, but the person patrolling the email was nice enough to reply anyway, linking me to the astronaut bio page.
A big thing that I’m learning as I keep pestering people with this question is that there’s really no right answer on how to become a Canadian astronaut. Though other countries (specifically the US) put a heavy preference on military pilots, Canada’s basic criteria is startlingly open-ended. Here’s what the gate included in 2009 during the last CSA recruitment:
1) Canadian citizenship (but where you were born doesn’t matter.)
2) A bachelor’s in science / engineering, plus 2+ years related experience
A bachelor’s + masters’/doctorate in science / engineering
A licence to practice medicine in Canada.
3) Height between 149.5cm (4’11”) and 190.5 cm (6’3″) and other medical info found here.
So for all you astronaut hopefuls out there looking for a laundry list of steps, you won’t find one. Which is both reassuring and overwhelming at times, because when you are faced with a fork in the road concerning The Future, there is really nothing to turn to but past examples and hunches.
Faced with a rainy afternoon and several dozen scattered articles and bios, I started fishing for trends in the lives of the canucks who out-spaced us all, attempting to quantify information where it seemed appropriate.
As this is an analysis of the selection process, I include every single person that has been selected through CSA campaigns, which includes the 1983 campaign (Roberta Bondar, Marc Garneau, Kevin Money (who left before flying to space), Steve Maclean, Bjarni Tryggvason and Robert Thirsk), the 1992 campaign (Chris Hadfield, Julie Payette, Mike McKay (who left before flying to space), Robert Stewart (who resigned shortly after selection), Dave Williams), and the 2009 campaign (David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen, our only two current astronauts, both who have not yet flown to space.) This excludes Guy Laliberté, who is still badass for being Canada’s first space tourist.
All educational information is taken at the time of being selected; degrees obtained after were not counted.
Where information could not be obtained, I’ve made special note of it with a star and with brackets. I also included interesting facts in brackets.
Please note also that I am awaiting confirmation on some information.
Average age when selected: 35
Oldest age when selected: 49; Ken Money
Youngest age when selected: 29; tied between Julie Payette, Mike McKay and Steve Maclean
Average number of degrees when selected: 2.5
Most: 4; tied between Roberta Bondar and Dave Williams (both doctors)
Least: 1; Bjarni Tryggvason, though still completed post-grad research.
Degrees obtained from outside of Canada: 4; David Saint-Jacques (Cambridge), Marc Garneau (Imperial College of Science and Technology), Chris Hadfield (U. of Tennessee), Robert Stewart (MIT)
Number of trained doctors: 4; Roberta Bondar, David Saint-Jacques, Dave Williams, Robert Thirsk
Number of trained engineers: 7; Bjarni Tryggvason, Robert Thirsk, Julie Payette, Chris Hadfield, Marc Garneau, David Saint-Jacques, Mike McKay
Number of trained physicists: 7*; Jeremy Hansen, David Saint-Jacques, Robert Stewart, Steve Maclean, Marc Garneau*, Bjarni Tryggvason*, Mike McKay*
(* denotes engingeering physics, which I’ve counted as both trained engineers and trained physicists.)
Astronauts with military training: 6
Army Training: 0
Naval Training: 1; Marc Garneau
Air Force Training: 5*; Chris Hadfield, Jeremy Hansen, Ken Money, Mike McKay, Julie Payette*
(* Julie Payette does not have a rank in the Air Force as she does not come from a military background, however she was the first civilian to have obtained her fighter pilot’s license with formal military training, and so I have included her on the list.)
Astronauts who completed missions in space: 8/13; Robert Thirsk, Marc Garneau, Chris Hadfield, Roberta Bondar, Steve Maclean, Bjarni Tryggvason, Dave Williams, Julie Payette
Average number of missions flown (of these 8): 2
Most missions: 3; tied between Chris Hadfield and Marc Garneau
Total number of Canadian spacewalks: 3; Chris Hadfield, Steve Maclean, Dave Williams (1 each)
Have listed outdoor sports in hobbies: 13; (Perhaps to the surprise of none. This includes hiking, biking, mountaineering, skiing, canoeing, rock-climbing and scuba-diving. All Canadian astronauts have displayed a strong affinity to nature.)
Right-Handed: 9; Roberta Bondar (images of holding objects – inconclusive), Chris Hadfield (pictures signing autographs), Julie Payette (pictures signing autographs), Robert Thirsk (pictures signing autographs), Bjarni Tryggvason (picture signing autograph), Jeremy Hansen (picture signing autograph), David Saint-Jacques (picture signing autograph), Dave Williams (picture holding pen), Robert Steward (YouTube channel of him playing guitar right-handedly – inconclusive)
Left-Handed: 1; Marc Garneau (picture signing autograph)
(*could not find any photographic evidence for Steve Maclean, Mike McKay or Ken Money due to a general lack of photos on the internet.)
(I wanted to include handedness because of supposed links to handedness and personality/intellectual traits. Of the ten astronauts for which I could find photographic evidence, 10% were left handed. In context, 10% of all humans are left-handed. Nothing groundbreaking here.)
1 – Robert Thirsk, New Westminister, BC
2 – Dave Williams, Saskatoon, SK
3 – Roberta Bondar, Sault Ste. Marie, ON
4 – Chris Hadfield, Sarnia, ON
5 – Mike McKay, Bracebridge, ON
6 – Jeremy Hansen, London, ON
7 – Ken Money, Toronto, ON
8 – Steve Maclean, Ottawa, ON
9 – Julie Payette, Montreal, QC
10 – David Saint-Jacques, Quebec City, QC
11 – Marc Garneau, Quebec City, QC
12 – Bjarni Tryggvason, Reykjavik, Iceland
(No data was available online for Robert Stewart.)
Please do comment if you notice any factual errors, or if you have anything to add to this list. I really enjoyed compiling this and will perhaps add to it in the future.