NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced last week that London, Ont., native Jeremy Hansen would join three Americans on the Artemis II mission – an historic 10-day expedition in which his team will orbit the Moon.
Hopeful for a November 2024 launch, Hansen, who will serve as one of the flight’s two mission specialists, will become the first Canadian and first non-American to travel outside of low Earth orbit.
Familiar with recording some firsts of her own, the Sault’s Dr. Roberta Bondar says the significance of Hansen’s mission for Canada is enormous.
“Canada has always been very strong in space science, astronomy, and engineering,” she says. “As Canadians, we don’t want to think we’re going to be left out of developing technology that can benefit us. Trying to retrofit things that are developed elsewhere and trying to fit them into the Canadian environment and culture is really hard.”
“If we’re not at the table, we can’t talk really, and we don’t have any representation. To be able to have a Canadian involved speaks of the amount of negotiation that has probably gone on in the last four or five years.”
The first Canadian woman and the first neurologist ever to fly in space aboard the 1992 Discovery mission, Bondar says Hansen’s long-awaited selection is well deserved.
“The man has been in the program (CSA) for 14 years without a flight – that’s hard,” she says. “I was only eight years.”
“They didn’t just take someone off the street or have a lottery. Jeremy has a huge pedigree of the training and skills set and is proven in all of it.”
“He’s going to be so focused on this – he won’t be making an error.”
American astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Christina Koch will join Hansen as members of the Artemis II crew. They’ll be part of the first crewed spacecraft to travel to the Moon in over 50 years.
Bondar says Hansen, who will be flying to space for the first time ever, will be around the same age as she was when she went into space over 30 years ago.
A few weeks back, Bondar received a picture from Hansen which showed him wearing his orange Artemis flight suit standing next to a familiar woman.
“He said, ‘hey Roberta, I want you to know that you and I are sharing the same suit tech,’” Bondar recounts. “This woman was fresh onto NASA and was doing all the engineering checks on my space suit with me in it 30 years ago, and Jeremy had the same suit check person doing his.”
“It was such a touching thing for Jeremy to do – to take the time in his busy training to send me this wonderful photograph. I met his wife and she’s a doctor as well. We have a few things in common, and we do see each other on formal occasions.”
Now 77 years old, Bondar is one of just two Canadian women who have ever gone to space.
While the space industry has made incredible technological advances over the years, Bondar says representation among astronauts is still questionable.
“The woman who is on this Artemis mission, Christina, was part of the all-women space walk – it shouldn’t be such a big deal,” she says. “It is because it’s never been done before, but we should be in a place years down the road where it’s not a big deal for two women to go out on a space walk.”
“We’ve only got one woman in the (Canadian) space program, and I can guarantee you if we’re going to have a Canadian on the moon, she (Jennifer Sidey) will be one of them."
Meanwhile, Bondar explains there are impressive new technologies that commercial industries such as SpaceX and Blue Origin have been able to develop because they have more wiggle room than the government on how they conduct research and spend their money.
“The creativity of the government is not necessarily as free mentally as a commercial enterprise,” she says. “The government has its rules and regulations that make it a little bit more in the box, whereas commercial stuff can be a bit more outside the box.”
In recent times, private space travel has allowed celebrities like William Shatner and billionaires like Jeff Bezos to blast off.
While space travel is projected to become trendier as the years go on, Bondar says the health risks and expenses cannot be ignored.
“People get a false sense of security if they think it’s not still risky – because it is,” she says. “One of the big things people are still unaware of is how much human physiology takes a hit going into space.”
“We need to sort some of that out before people start going to the moon for a recreational holiday. It would be kind of nice if you had a cabin there. You wouldn’t have to worry about putting your feet up because they’d float anyway.”
Although it’s been over three decades since she last orbited the planet, Bondar wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to go again if the logistics were there.
“I can’t hide my age,” she says. “If I was going back into space, and I was able to go on one of those dragon vehicles in a new kind of space suit and be able to go to the moon, or even just around the moon – that would be fantastic. Right now, I’m just as happy to let Jeremy go ahead.”
Bondar says she is thankful for the efforts that astronauts of the past and present have made to make future missions like Artemis II a reality.
“To be able to move to the next phase is a reassurance that what we’ve done in the past is not lost,” she says. “People understand that they couldn’t do what they’re doing now had it not been for the things my flight has done or any of the other astronaut flights. We are stepping stones.”