Saturday marked the 30th anniversary of Sault native Dr. Roberta Bondar’s blast off as the first Canadian female astronaut in space on an eight-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
A virtual event entitled An Evening with Dr. Roberta Bondar & Friends - 30th Anniversary Celebration was held, including tributes to Bondar from several well-known figures from a variety of professions.
A touching local tribute came from John Fleming, Bondar’s Grade 10 math teacher from Sir James Dunn Collegiate.
“We go way back to September 1960. You were one of my favourite students. Whatever you undertook you did with enthusiasm and confidence. I was continually impressed by your quest for knowledge in a variety of fields. With your work ethic and your passion for research, I wasn’t really surprised when you were selected for the astronaut program. You were clever, curious, creative, competitive, committed, charismatic, an all round scholar, athlete and citizen,” Fleming said.
“Dr. Roberta Bondar, I’m so proud to have been a part of your journey. Happy 30th anniversary,” Fleming said.
Bondar - an astronaut, neurologist, scientific researcher, photographer, author, public speaker and environmentalist - performed 40 experiments studying the effects of low-gravity situations on the human body during the 1992 Discovery mission.
Other words of praise for Bondar during Saturday’s virtual celebration came from Governor General Mary Simon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Space Shuttle Mission STS-42 commander Ronald Grabe, journalist Peter Mansbridge, singer Anne Murray, astronaut Kathy Sullivan, Canadian hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser, author Margaret Atwood and singers Buffy Sainte-Marie and Susan Aglukark.
The virtual presentation was hosted by Canadian Olympic swimmer Mark Tewksbury.
The evening wrapped up with a version of Fly Me To The Moon with revised lyrics honouring Bondar - including a reference to Sault Ste. Marie - by singer Matt Dusk.
Hundreds of people attended the virtual event, a fundraiser organized by The Roberta Bondar Foundation, which is dedicated to environmental causes.
“This has been some evening. This exceeded any expectation I would have of people interested in the 30-year anniversary. I just want to say thank you,” Bondar said.
“I don’t want to stop,” Bondar said, reflecting on her adventurous life.
“I really appreciate your letting me share this moment of your lives with me,” said Bondar to the event’s viewers.
Bondar holds the Order of Canada, has been given many awards from universities and organizations across the country and also has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.
She has served as Chancellor of Trent University and has had many schools named after her.
Locally, Roberta Bondar Place and Roberta Bondar Park and Tent Pavilion are named in her honour.
Susan Myers, currently an Algoma District School Board (ADSB) trustee, former city councillor and Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation (SSMEDC) employee and longtime friend of Bondar’s was in attendance at the virtual celebration, appreciating the astronaut’s role as an ambassador for the city.
“In 1992, we were all acutely aware that we were sitting on pins and needles because Algoma Steel was facing bankruptcy. Part of the campaign of feeling good about ourselves as a community was embraced around Roberta’s space launch and mission on January 22nd, thirty years ago,” Myers recalled, speaking to SooToday.
“Roberta and her mission was tremendously impacting to us as a community, of where we were at that time, how we felt about ourselves, how we saw ourselves as people who could reach for the stars and get there. Her dreams and following them and the hope and aspiration that brought to us as a community really was an integral part of that whole saving Algoma Steel effort.”
“I came to understand how she was so committed to Sault Ste. Marie, how she loved this community and that her accomplishments were something that we could really shout to the world about,” Myers said, adding the 30th anniversary of Bondar’s mission is a welcome good news story in a COVID-weary country.