Canada names two astronauts to future NASA missions

Joshua Kutryk will fly to the International Space Station in 2025; Jenni Sidey-Gibbons joins the backup crew of the Artemis 2 moon mission

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Canadians are going back to space in a big way.

In an announcement from the Quebec headquarters of the Canadian Space Agency on Wednesday morning, François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, revealed that astronaut Joshua Kutryk will be traveling to the International Space Station in 2025 for a six-month stay. It will be his first time in space.

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Kutryk’s will be the fourth time a Canadian has taken part in a long-duration mission aboard the ISS. Robert Thirsk spent 188 days in orbit in 2009. Chris Hadfield was on the ISS for 144 days beginning in 2012, and served as the station’s commander.

And in 2018, David Saint-Jacques began a 204-day mission, the longest Canadian stint to date. It also marks the last time to date that a Canadian has flown to space, not including so-called commercial astronauts such as William Shatner, who flew on a Blue Origin flight in 2021.

Kutryk’s ride to the ISS will be aboard the CST-100, also known as the Boeing Starliner, making him the first Canadian to participate in NASA’s commercial crew program. The ship has been plagued with delays but is expected to be ready to fly by next year. Kutryk worked as a CapCom, or capsule communicator, for the Starliner, during an uncrewed flight to the ISS last year.

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In an interview with the National Post last year, Kutryk said he’d been spending a lot of time in NASA’s neutral buoyancy laboratory, a massive pool that simulates microgravity on Earth.

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“Something that we have to do maintenance-wise on the space station, I may be working on developing this over eight or 10 months,” he said. “And then when we go to do it in space, … it’ll be me and Mission Control teaching them what we developed and then guiding them through it.” He may now find himself on the practical side of one of those procedures.

Wednesday’s announcement also included good news for Jenni Sidey-Gibbons, Canada’s only other active not-yet-flown astronaut. She’s been named to the backup crew of Artemis 2, which will launch as early as next year for a trip around the moon. Canadian Jeremy Hansen is already part of that mission, but if something should prevent him from flying, Sidey-Gibbons will take his place in the Orion capsule, which will return humans to lunar orbit for the first time since 1972.

Sidey-Gibbons’ role will likely put her in good stead for an eventual mission on the Lunar Gateway, a planned space station that will orbit the moon and serve as a staging point for both robotic and crewed landings on the moon’s south pole, and possibly for future expeditions to Mars. Canada’s role in developing a next-generation Canadarm means at least one Canadian astronaut will participate in a future mission on the Gateway.

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The announcement comes just after a big milestone for the International Space Station. Monday marked the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Russian Zarya module, the first piece of what would become a sprawling structure with more than 32000 cubic feet (900 cubic metres) of pressurized space, similar to a Boeing 747 or a six-bedroom home. In March of this year, Canada formally committed to an extension of the ISS operation until at least 2030.

The Minister was in a jolly mood at the event, kidding with Sidey-Gibbons that he had borrowed her NASA jacket at an earlier event in Houston, and that “I hope you have another one. You’re not getting it back.”

Sidey-Gibbons, in her remarks, said she’d be working closely with the Artemis on developing procedures for the mission, and possibly on working as a CapCom for the mission. She added: “I am so proud that space is at the heart of this nation.”

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