On January 22, 1992, neurologist and astronaut Roberta Bondar became Canada’s first woman in space, and now, 25 years later, her milestones and achievements are being celebrated.
“She was a renaissance woman. We were extremely proud, and still are of her contribution to the space program,” says Gilles Leclerc, director general of space exploration at the Canadian Space Agency, to the Canadian Press. “That flight took place 25 years ago. A lot has happened since. She was really a pioneer.”
In fact, the first neurologist in space, Bondar began her astronaut training in 1984, eight years before her flight aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery in 1992. The eight-day mission focused on studying the effects of space flight on the human body, a topic which would then occupy Bondar for the next ten years as head of a NASA medical research team. Bondar still recalls her spaceflight 25 years ago with a measure of awe.
“When I first came over Canada, it was the biggest thrill imaginable,” she said. “Winter or no winter, it has to be absolutely beautiful and spectacular, and I’m coming back to Earth with a feeling that there’s absolutely nothing boring. There’s no boring place anywhere on this whole planet.”
The Discovery Shuttle, the third of NASA’s reusable spaceships, was first launched in 1984 and
distinguished itself for the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope and the launch of the Ulysses spacecraft, both on separate missions in 1990.
But it was the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle on January 28, 1986, which made Bondar’s spaceflight six years later that much more nerve-wracking, especially for her family, she says. “I was thinking about being the first Canadian after the Challenger accident and how difficult it would be for some people to watch it without being totally a bundle of nerves, and thinking about my own family and friends, especially my mother and sister who would be watching me disappear into the sky and hoping that nothing would go wrong,” she said.
Among other awards including 22 honorary degrees, Bondar is the recipient of the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario and the NASA Space Medal. Next week, Bondar will be honoured for her community service with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rotary Club, with a Rotary statement saying, “She is a continuous role model for youth and is truly one of Canada’s great heroes.”
This past November, the Canadian Mint announced it would be issuing a glow-in- the-dark commemorative coin to mark the 25th anniversary of Bondar’s mission. The silver, uniquely curved coin will recreate the view of Canada from outer space and will glow a light blue in the dark. “Glowing in the dark, the coin represents inspiration and hope for the future and it is an honour to have my role in human space flight recognized in this meaningful way,” said Bondar at a ceremony in her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie. The $25 coin will have a limited mintage of 8,500 and will cost collectors $159.95.