After a title like that this better be a good blog post!
Imagine my surprise when I won a chance to meet a Canadian legend, Dr Roberta Bondar! Thanks to a Twitter contest by Mount Royal University, my otherwise lack lustre Monday took a pretty amazing turn for the better when I won a chance to meet her Tuesday night.
Dr Bondar, in case you need a refresher, was Canada’s first woman in space. She spent eight days on the Space Shuttle Discovery in January 1992. In an answer to a question after her presentation, she also pointed out that those eight days were with six men and one bathroom. That takes a special lady, let me tell you.
She is also an accomplished photographer, physician, author, educator, scientist and humanitarian. She is a recipient of the Order of Canada and has a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. I think its fair to call her a Canadian treasure!
Prior to her presentation I got to meet Dr Bondar and receive a signed copy of her book Landscape of Dreams. Its a beautiful book filled with exquisite photos of Canada and accompanied by quotes from well-known Canadians. Its a wonderful piece of Canadiana and I highly recommend you pick it up.
It was a brief meet and greet but I was grateful for every second. Before she met with the contest winners, she spoke with a six year old girl who was eager to meet her. She mentioned that she couldn’t shake her hand because she had recently had wrist surgery, so she and the little girl did a fist bump instead. She asked her a few questions about her interests and they got a photo together.
I was next. I introduced myself and then offered my fist to which Dr Bondar graciously bumped, even though I wasn’t a six year old. Sometimes I forget that I am a so-called adult, but in this case I am glad I did! Its not every day you can say you fist bumped an astronaut. The funny part was, I must have been pretty excited because I didn’t even remember we did the fist bump until afterward when myself and the other contest winner were chatting outside. That’s when I had a good laugh and thought, so much for acting my age! In the presence of someone so iconic during my childhood, I just reverted back to my inner child. Its not often as an adult you can have those kind of wow moments and that made the whole experience even more special.
As if meeting her wasn’t already fabulous, her presentation was ‘the whipped cream on the mountains’. Don’t worry, that will make more sense later.
Dr Bondar’s presentation ‘The Edge of Earth’ included many wonderful moments. The theatre was packed and enthralled right from the beginning. She spoke about being a child and being interested in science even though it wasn’t the norm for girls, her time on the Space Shuttle and how difficult space travel is on the human body (and the amount of vomiting involved), her love of photography since she was very young and of course, sustainability – the topic of her talk. Even the most complicated concepts were easy to understand with her sometimes goofy delivery and straight forward explanations. When she showed video the room was so quiet you could hear a iPhone on vibrate out in the hallway.
She had the room practically crying with laughter one minute and then in awe the next. I loved how she explained things, like floating in the Space Shuttle, with a level of enthusiasm that made you feel like she was telling you the story for the first time. I could have easily listened to her for hours. Its not often you get to spend an evening with an astronaut and she certainly didn’t disappoint.
Here are some of my favourite quotes that I quickly noted on my iPhone while trying not to miss a word she said. Some of these are paraphrased, but I think they really highlight her love of science and joy in getting to share her experiences with others.
When she saw Earth from the Space Shuttle: “The teachers were right! Its a planet!”
Regarding right brain and left brain: “I like to work in the middle.”
On the topic of being on the edge of the unknown: Knowing you can’t expect an answer gives you a level of comfort. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. I want to learn and be different (because of) these experiences. I don’t want to be the same person next year as I am right now. That’s boring.
On seeing the Rocky Mountains from the Space Shuttle: Its not mountains, its whipped cream.
When talking about volcanoes: I almost became a volcanologist because of Pierce Brosnan in that volcano movie.
On sustainability and the environment: Don’t be ashamed of being human.
During the Q & A when asked which planet was her favourite: “The one where I don’t have to wear a space suit.”
When asked if she believed in God: “Next!”
When asked if she thought there was intelligent life out there: Yes, because they have left us alone.
Describing the experience of sitting in the Space Shuttle prior to launch: “It was like an eerie night in pumpkin suits with green lights around us.” (A little explanation – there were no lights on because all power was needed to launch. To see they had to use green glow sticks.)
When asked if she knew as a child that she would go into space: “I had a funny feeling that I was different from the other girls (and boys).”
So there you go, an evening with an astronaut. Something I didn’t think I’d be doing Tuesday night, but now something I will remember for the rest of my life.
My favourite part was her philosophy on not being afraid of the unknown. Keep learning and experiencing new things. As she said, don’t be the same person next year as you are right now. That’s boring.
I can tell you with complete confidence that Roberta Bondar is most certainly not boring.