Roberta Bondar

Tuesday, September 22, 1992

About this Event

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
Some remarks about the upcoming national Science and Technology Week. Raising awareness of the essential role that science, technology, and engineering play in Canada's ability to compete internationally and in our quality of life. Corporate sponsors. Some personal anecdotes about what it feels like to be in outer space. Some stories about "Canadian things we did in flight." Flying over Canada from outer space. The slide presentation.

The Adventure of Space (A Slide Presentation)

Introduction: I am delighted to make a few introductory remarks about our guest of honour. Our speaker today is one who has stepped into the great realm of the future and has come back to tell Canadians all about it. As the first Canadian woman in space and only the second Canadian, Roberta Bondar has been in the vanguard of Canada's role of playing a legitimate part in this huge, ever-inquisitive human species to explore and examine the great unknown.

No one could be better qualified for this important role than Dr. Roberta Bondar. First she is highly educated. She holds a Masters in Science degree from the University of Western Ontario, a PhD in neurobiology from the University of Toronto and a degree in medicine from McMaster University.

Secondly Dr. Bondar is a keen sports enthusiast and an accomplished hiker, canoeist, cross-country skier, and balloonist, among other things. Lastly, and perhaps even more important for someone working in a stressful condition, Dr. Bondar is one of the most decent, approachable and unspoiled people that I have ever met.

Little wonder that of 2,400 applicants for the job of astronaut in 1983, she came up a winner. The Canadian and Empire Clubs are proud and happy to have this remarkable woman address us today because, above all else, she represents that trusting spirit combined with courage that we would hope is embedded deep in all Canadians.

Ladies and gentlemen, would you join me in welcoming our guest of honour and speaker today, Roberta Bondar.

Roberta Bondar

Thank you very much Isabel, and thank you very much to the Canadian Club and Empire Club for asking me to come here and address so many wonderful Canadians. What I'd like to do today is show you some lovely slides and talk a bit about my experiences. Before I do there's always a commercial. I wanted to tell everybody who's listening and who's watching today about a very important event occurring in Canada between October the 16th and the 25th-National Science and Technology Week, of which I happen to be a patron. It's the third annual one to raise the awareness of the essential role that science, technology, and engineering play in our nation's ability to compete internationally and in our quality of life.

I also wanted to let people know that we can't do this alone in Canada. It's not just a government project, we're going to have to be very thankful to our corporate sponsors and this year we're very pleased to have two. They are Spar Aerospace and IBM Canada.

They have contributed both money and their technical support to the National Science and Technology Week and we would like to thank them for their support.

I hope there will be time at the end of my slides to have questions from the audience. I can answer one right now--the food is not as good as it was here today.

So with that, why don't we start up? This is the actual launch day in Florida. It was a crisp January morning and it was an eight-day mission, landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California January 30.

People ask me what it was like on the morning of the launch. Well this is the exact position we were in during the launch phase. We were on our backs, pointed up towards the sky and when the three main engines fired it was just like the moderate turbulence you get as a commercial airliner comes in to the airport.

But when you're on your back, you feel this massive steel structure start clanging on the pad; you realize there's a tremendous force beneath you. And very quickly the next thing you feel is the vibration from the solid rocket boosters. It's like someone taking you by the shoulder and shaking you. Everything is shaking. We have our helmets on but we still hear the noise and for two minutes and six seconds those solid rockets fire, before they burn out and tumble back into the Atlantic. During this time, of course, everyone has their fingers crossed because people know what happened to the Challenger. This is certainly a very difficult time for all of us. This is an experimental system and we have a lot of confidence in its operation but it is not to be taken for granted.

Each launch and each landing you breathe a sigh of relief. So the solid rockets break away and you go up and end up about six minutes later in space. Canada, of course, participated in this flight along with scientists from Japan and the United States; we had 14 countries represented on this flight. They all provided experiments, so when you messed up you had to be careful who was going to come after you when you got back.

Some of the Canadian things we did in flight were experiments that had never been done before. This is me having my height measurement taken. I grew 5 centimetres but managed to lose it when I got back, unfortunately. I had always wanted to be on the National Women's basketball team. In space flight you have a shift of fluid into your head and chest and, probably with a lack of gravity, you're able to keep a straighter spine than down here on the ground.

We spent 14 to 16 hours a day, sometimes, trying to get all the scientific work done. An unusual environment in which to work We had to make sure all the food was tied down. Here I am, you can see the tortilla floating up there. And you can see some dehydrated strawberries in the plastic dish that we had to rehydrate. Coming back from space flight, you can get quite sick if you don't take enough fluid in. In space you lose two litres of your five litres volume. When you come back, you need those five litres again. So now we're rehydrating an hour before we re-enter with water and salt tablets.

Well, what's it like in space? I've been asked that maybe 200 times and I try to answer it each time. It's fun, when you get over all the other stuff you have to deal with; it's kind of neat to be able to fly around. Here I am wearing a T-shirt that I had prepared before the flight, pictures of my family on the back of it.

One of the most wonderful things you can do from space is look at the planet earth. I had a wonderful time, when I had a few minutes, looking at our golden planet. It was so beautiful. The light angle changed every time I looked at it, making the atmosphere different colours. Some days it was golden, some days it was a turquoise blue, it was always changing. I can only tell you that we cannot attach the same quality of depth and luxury of colour on this film, as you can see with the human eye in space.

I have met some people in my life, such as the Queen and Prince Charles, people that I've read about, and then when you meet them, it's a new dimension, a new emotion, and you remember that the rest of your life. It's like that when you look at the world. You wish everybody could see this beautiful planet.

You will feel much more protective of the civilization and how much we mean to each other and how much we need to take care of each other.

We flew over Canada of course and this is one of the first areas I saw of Canada. There was blue ice off the coast, this is Labrador. There were other areas too covered by ice and this is how you'd see it in space flight as we travelled from west to east. This is James Bay and, down from the top to the right, is the Moose River in Moosonee and further over the Albany River. When we take all these pictures, the people on the ground make us look good. We had over 3,000 frames from our flight of which 2,700 were taken of the earth. So when we came back we had to have some really smart people figure out where we were. We knew what we were looking at from space because we had a computer telling us where we were, but when we come back that's a different story.

When we came home, we all hoped that we have another golden opportunity to fly again. It's fun doing the scientific work up there, compared to the scientific work down here, and to be able to look beyond our own planet.

Here I am, full of great pride, with a maple leaf on my shoulder and a maple leaf in my heart. One of my favorite cartoons was a cartoon of the shuttle going over Canada and the commander is saying: "for Pete's sake Roberta close the window" And here's this arm outside waving a Canadian flag.

If there are some questions, I'd be delighted to try and answer them.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Robert L. Brooks, President, The Empire Club of Canada.