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(June 13, 2002, Gazette)

Astronaut values curiosity

Dr. Roberta Bondar has never been afraid to ask “why” and her curiosity led her to earn a PhD and a medical degree as well as become one of Canada’s first astronauts and the first Canadian woman in space.

On May 24, at Discovery Days in Health Sciences, a group of high school students heard about Dr. Bondar’s adventures in space. Discovery Days is an event held to promote awareness in health sciences among young people. About 100 students were selected from those who applied through their schools to attend the day, which also included hands-on workshops and a career panel.

“In space, we’re just as fragile as we are down here,” said Dr. Bondar, a neurologist whose role on the space shuttle Discovery in1992 was to study how the human body reacted to weightlessness and the growth of plants without gravity. “Some of the problems in space include feeling nauseous in the first 48 hours. And what happens if your nose gets itchy in a space suit? We came up with a velcro strip for that problem. Another problem we had to figure out was how much nutrition is needed – you can eat 3,000 calories a day in space and still lose weight.”

Dr. Bondar said that what is true on the ground is not true in space. “In space we lose all the reflexes we have in gravity, for example putting out our arms to break a fall. For every day up, an astronaut needs a day back to recover.”

Born in 1945, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Dr. Bondar noted that she was born before anything had left the Earth. She encouraged the high school students to pursue careers they enjoy. For her, that has been medicine. “As a doctor, you can do anything. Medicine opens the key to the world – it’s not just about helping other people, but helping yourself.”

Dr. Roberta Bondar has received numerous honours and awards, including Officer of the Order of Canada, a NASA Space Medal and induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

Discovery Days in Health Sciences was sponsored by Pfizer Canada and the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.