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Calgary astronaut prepares for upcoming Artemis II mission


This year could be a historic one when it comes to Canada's involvement in space exploration, and Alberta will be well represented in the country's ongoing pursuit of the final frontier.

In November 2023, the Canada Space Agency announced that Alberta astronauts Jenni Gibbons of Calgary and Joshua Kutryk of Fort Saskatchewan would be taking part in two significant upcoming missions.

Kutryk will journey to the International Space Station no earlier than 2025 for a six-month mission and Gibbons is currently training in Houston to serve as backup on the highly anticipated and historic Artemis II mission to the moon, scheduled for no earlier than November 2024.

"Obviously, I was happy when I found out, and excited," the Calgarian said.

Her passion for science and adventure began at an early age in Kananaskis country.

"I think that was really early for me my first memories of wanting to be outside and looking at the sky and learning about the natural environment around us," Gibbons recalled. "Those memories are tightly bound to Alberta, to Calgary, for me."

After Gibbons graduated from high school in Calgary, her passion for science exploded. 

Gibbons studied engineering and has worked as a mechanical engineer, a combustion scientist and as an assistant professor in internal combustion engines at the University of Cambridge. 

She also taught undergraduate and graduate students on conventional and alternative energy production.

In June 2016, opportunity came knocking for Gibbons to be part of Canada's next generation of space explorers, when the Canada Space Agency launched its fourth Canadian astronaut recruitment campaign.

Out of 3,772 applications from across the country and outside of Canada, plus a rigorous one-year selection process, Gibbons and Kutryk became the latest additions to the Canadian astronaut corps.

"The ultimate goal in being an astronaut is just to participate in the right mission for your country," Gibbons said.

"There's strong feelings of public service in this for me, and I truly believe it's the right thing for Canada to invest in space."

As a back up for Artemis II, Gibbons will be ready to step in for Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen if he is unable to participate in the mission.

She is also training to provide support to Artemis missions from the ground as a lunar capsule communicator, which is a new role for Canada.

Don Hladiuk has been an avid astronomer since he was a kid and is a long-time member of the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada (RASC) Calgary Centre.  

The RASC is the largest astronomy club in Canada and Calgary Centre is the second-largest chapter behind Toronto.

"When I was a young lad, being a Canadian astronaut was not even a dream, there were no Canadian astronauts," said Hladiuk.

Now Hladiuk says he's amazed at the advancements Canadians have made in the pursuit of exploring the moon and beyond.

"Now [Jeremy Hansen] being selected as the first non-American on a mission outside the earth's orbit and Jenni is his back up, my gosh, this is huge," Hladiuk exclaimed.

"This is so historic and monumental for Canada and Calgary, because Jenni's the backup."

The four astronauts involved in the Artemis II mission will orbit Earth once before slinging into space for a figure eight manoeuvre around the dark side of the moon before returning back to Earth.

The purpose of the mission is to set up the next phase of Artemis which involves putting a man and woman on the moon as early as 2025.

While the discoveries to be made in space appear to be endless, there's one thing in particular Gibbons is looking forward to.

"When I do fly on a mission it's looking out the window and looking back at Earth, because the idea of seeing every place that you have ever been up to that time and all the people that you interacted with, all of your memories and all of your experiences, that's just such a big picture perspective." Top Stories

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