, marks 20 years of continuous human presence on the International Space Station (ISS). This unique research laboratory is considered the one of the most ambitious international collaborations ever, allowing astronauts to test technologies and conduct scientific experiments that have positive impacts on our lives on Earth.
It is largely thanks to the ISS that the international space community is now setting its sights on deep-space destinations like the Moon and Mars. For 20 years, the ISS has been a vital part of space exploration: it serves as a test bed that enables us to prepare to explore deeper into space.
McGill has been well represented on the ISS, with four members of the University community having travelled to and worked onboard the ISS as astronauts. Before she became Canada’s current Governor General, Julie Payette made history as the first Canadian to board the ISS in 1999, 13 years after earning her bachelor of Engineering at McGill.
In 1996, Robert Thirsk (MD’82) became the first member of the McGill community in space, as a crew member aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia during a 16-day mission. In 2009, Thirsk returned to space on a 188-day mission aboard the ISS. During that mission, Thirsk was joined by Payette aboard the ISS, the latter’s second stint on the ISS.
One of Canada’s most experienced astronauts, Dafydd “Dave” Williams (BSc’76, MDCM’83, MSc’83, DSc’07), holds the Canadian record for the most spacewalks, with three for a total of just under 18 hours outside the Space Station during a 2007 mission.
In 2019, David Saint-Jacques joined Williams as only the second member of the McGill community to take part in a spacewalk as part of a a 204-day mission on board the ISS. During the mission, Saint-Jacques, an Adjunct Professor of Family Medicine at McGill, orbited the globe 3,264 times and covered a distance of 139,096,495 kilometres.
McGill could boast a fifth member of the ISS club. In January 2019, Jenni Sidey-Gibbons (BEng’11) graduated from astronaut candidate to full-fledged astronaut, making her eligible to be assigned to missions destined for the International Space Station and beyond.
To celebrate the ISS anniversary, the Canadian Space Agency created a photo gallery celebrating the ongoing adventures of Canadian astronauts aboard the ISS. Below, we feature some of the highest flying members of the McGill community.