Youth are being encouraged to look towards the stars and follow their dreams.
Marc Garneau, Canada’s first astronaut, told a crowd of about 80 people at the Okanagan Science Centre Thursday that science is critical to the development of future generations and the country.
“Even if you don’t become a scientist, it’s important to have that sense of curiosity about the world around you,” he said.
Among the benefits of space to Canada’s economy are communications satellites and images of Earth that high-tech companies and governments can utilize.
“Science and technology are important for Canada,” he said.
Garneau was firmly entrenched as a navy engineer but in 1983 he saw a newspaper advertisement for astronauts for Canada’s space agency. He decided to apply.
“The idea of going up there was too much to resist,” he said.
He went through a battery of medical exams and interviews, and on Dec. 5, 1983, he officially got accepted.
“It really was a moment that changed my life,” he said.
Training was ramped up and in October 1984, he made the first of three trips into space.
Among the first things he did, was go to a window to look out towards Earth.
“I could see land beginning to appear. I was literally speechless. I could not absorb what I was experiencing — I was in awe,” he said.
“I was euphoric. I felt that this is what I was dreaming for and training for.”
Being able to orbit the planet and not see national boundaries, Garneau says, has influenced his current role as the federal Liberal foreign affairs critic.
“People are killing each other in Central Africa and Sudan and they’re throwing out human rights in Sri Lanka but this is our only home,” he said.
“We need to find a way to live alongside each other to get along.”
His experiences have also given him an appreciation for the environment.
“There’s not Canada’s atmosphere and China’s atmosphere, there’s just atmosphere,” he said.
“You think about these things because you have a perspective that’s unique.”
Because of his background, Garneau says he also believes that science can play a role in determining public policy. However, the Montreal-area MP isn’t convinced the federal Conservative government shares that view.
“This government got rid of the long-form census that provided accurate data. This government stopped funding an Arctic research station and is muzzling scientists,” said Garneau.
“They seem to be driven more on what kind of response they will get from their voting base than what science tells them.”
When asked what advice he would give to young people wanting to be astronauts, Garneau says the most desirable candidates are engineers or those with careers in medicine or science.
“You need good health so I encourage young people to look after their health,” he said.
He also insists that a positive, well-rounded personality is critical when selecting individuals to leave Earth’s orbit.
“We want people with broad interests and perhaps involved in their community. They have to like being a communicator,” said the former president of the Canadian Space Agency.
While in Vernon, Garneau met with Bruce Aikenhead, a Shuswap resident and Okanagan Science Centre enthusiast who was involved in Canada’s Avro Arrow in the 1950s and NASA’s Mercury Project.
““He’s a real pioneer in Canada’s space program,” said Garneau.