In 1992, Dr. Bondar became the first neurologist and the first Canadian woman to fly in space. Since then, she’s been on a quest to improve our appreciation for this planet.
On a calm night you can see starlight reflected on the waters of Batchawana Bay, a sheltered indent in the Lake Superior shoreline just north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
For Roberta Bondar, it was the setting for childhood adventures and early encounters with nature. Later on, as an adult, she found herself at the bow of a canoe during an evening paddle with her father. Suspended between lake and sky, it seemed to her that the canoe was cutting through a mirrored infinity of stars.
“It was like a double universe,” she said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “That’s a precious memory.”
Thirty years ago, on Jan. 22, 1992, Dr. Bondar etched another memory into the country’s history books when she became Canada’s first woman and the world’s first neurologist in space.
For eight days, she circled the globe while conducting experiments in a laboratory module aboard the space shuttle Discovery. Looking out, she could see the bright rim of planet Earth superimposed against what she called the “unimaginable black” of space. Seas and continents rolled past below, along with the place where she grew up, which was easy to spot at the meeting point of three Great Lakes. It was then that she acquired a renewed passion for her home planet that would prove to be a guide star for her current work as an advocate for environmental awareness.
“It’s what makes me feel the most complete and the most able to try to make the world a better place,” said Dr. Bondar, ahead of a virtual live program that will celebrate her life and work. The Saturday evening event is also an effort to amplify her message about the vulnerability of the Earth and the need to safeguard its future.
She has a message about resilience too, one that is echoed in the tagline of a podcast series that she recorded last year from her home studio – a new skill that she decided she would take on, with encouragement from others. The series features Dr. Bondar with a range of guests from singer Buffy Sainte-Marie to hockey player-physician Hayley Wickenheiser speaking about “life, creativity, flexibility and change.”
The words were chosen with precision to match the challenging times, Dr. Bondar said, particularly flexibility — a personality trait demanded by the pandemic and one that helped her find her feet after her career in space was over.
“She lives a life of purpose,” said Bonnie Patterson, who chairs the board of the Roberta Bondar Foundation and has travelled internationally with the former astronaut, working on her conservation and photography projects.
She said that whether Dr. Bondar is speaking to students or hanging out of a helicopter to capture an image, she exudes a striking blend of humanity, technical competence and total engagement in whatever she takes on. Being in her company, Ms. Patterson said, “is a learning experience.”
The Globe and Mail, January 21, 2022