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Remember This? 25 years ago tomorrow, Roberta Bondar's childhood dream came true

By Grade 7, she had her own laboratory in the family basement. When the Canadian Astronaut Program launched in 1983, she signed up immediately
Roberta Bondar space flights 1992 SSMPL
Dr. Roberta Bondar is pictured during her 1992 space flight aboard the space shuttle Discovery. From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

Remember This. . . Roberta Bondar

The name Dr. Roberta Bondar is familiar to many when they travel around the city and see various locations that bear her name but how much do you know about her? 

She was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario on December 4, 1945 to Mildred and Edward Bondar and grew up with her older sister Barbara.  From an early age she showed an aptitude towards science and as early as eight years of age began dreaming of space exploration.  In Grade 7 her father, Edward Bondar, built a laboratory of her very own in their basement. 

In high school, she had a summer job working at the Great Lakes Forest Research Centre (Bug Lab) studying spruce budworm.  When she was a teenager Roberta’s aunt Erma worked in Florida and frequently sent her news of the NASA space program.  Roberta Bondar attended Sir James Dunn High School where she excelled not only academically but also in sports and was voted Female Athlete of the Year.   

Roberta attended the University of Guelph where she obtained a degree in zoology and agriculture in 1968.  She completed a Master of Science degree in experimental pathology from the University of Western Ontario in 1971.  In 1974, she completed her doctorate in Neurobiology from the University of Toronto and then attended medical school at McMaster University, becoming a medical doctor in 1977.  She was admitted to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in neurology in 1981.  Dr. Bondar worked extensively in the science field including Tuft’s New England Medical Centre in Boston and Toronto Western Hospital.  She eventually became assistant professor of medicine at McMaster University as well as becoming director of a clinic that treated patients with Multiple Sclerosis. 

Her love of sports didn’t stop after high school and throughout the years she has pursued parachuting, scuba diving, hiking, fishing, target shooting and canoeing as just a few of her leisure time activities.  

When the National Research Council set up the Canadian Astronaut Program in 1983 Roberta Bondar signed up immediately realizing that her childhood dream could actually become a reality when she was selected as one of six Canadian astronauts in December 1983.  The space shuttle program created great excitement with each planned launch but on January 28, 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded just after launch and doubt was cast on the future of the entire space shuttle program after this catastrophe.   Roberta Bondar’s chance of ever going into space was threatened.  After much investigation and testing the shuttle program started up again in 1989 and on January 20, 1990 Dr. Bondar’s dream to go into space was one step closer when it was announced that she would be the next Canadian astronaut to go into space. 

Roberta’s flight was originally scheduled for December 6th, 1990, but the shuttle’s fuel system was leaking and the flight was delayed for more than a year.  Finally, on January 22, 1992 Dr. Bondar’s dream of becoming an astronaut was finally realized when the space shuttle Discovery blasted off.

While in space, Dr. Bondar conducted dozens of experiments.  Many of them studied the changes experienced by the human body in the zero gravity of space.  Other experiments centred on small living creatures like frog embryos, growing food in space such as wheat and oats as well growing crystals.  

Dr. Bondar landed safely back on earth on January 30, 1992 in California and became an instant celebrity both locally and nationally.  Since the completion of this space flight she has been the recipient of a variety of awards including the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame and many honourary degrees.  In more recent years, Dr. Bondar’s interests have extended beyond her work in neurology to photography and environmental awareness.  Her photography has been exhibited in art galleries around Canada and she has been published in many books.  Locally the city has shown their respect and honour for her by having a number of buildings and sites named after her, including Roberta Bondar Pavilion and the Roberta Bondar Place provincial building located on Bay Street.  You will also find her name on schools and buildings throughout the province and the rest of the country.      

Dr. Bondar is a trailblazer in her field, being the first Canadian woman in space and the second Canadian in space after Marc Garneau, proving that with hard work and big dreams anyone can reach the stars.  The Sault Ste. Marie Public Library is honoured to have the Roberta Bondar Collection of archival materials located in our Archives.  

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

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