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Star candidate

Earth sciences professor in running to become next Canadian astronaut

Campus and Community

By Kelly Foss

Dr. John Jamieson could be the next Canadian to go into space.

This week, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced the assistant professor of earth sciences and Canada Research Chair in Marine Geology has made the short list of a year-long campaign to find its two newest “star” candidates.

Since Navdeep Bains, minister, Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and minister responsible for the CSA, launched Canada’s fourth astronaut recruitment campaign in June, more than 3,700 Canadians have completed the application.

Rigorous process

That began a rigorous selection process, which saw the group whittled down to just over 1,700 in late September, following the results of a public service entrance exam.

That group was cut to 100 candidates in mid-December after a preliminary medical test conducted by the Canadian Forces Health Services Group. This week, the CSA released the names and backgrounds of their top 72 potential recruits, including one from Newfoundland and Labrador: Dr. Jamieson.

Statistics on the group of Canadians invited to go through to the next round of eliminations.
Statistics on the group of 100 Canadians making their way through the elimination process. Dr. Jamieson made the cut.
Photo: Canadian Space Agency

‘I’ve got to try’

“I thought about applying when the CSA did their last recruitment campaign in 2008, but I had just started my PhD,” said Dr. Jamieson.

“This time I thought, ‘I’ve got to try.’ I’m not one of those people who grew up wanting to be an astronaut, and it didn’t drive any of my career choices, but I’ve always had a space bug. So, when this opportunity came up, I thought, if I didn’t at least try, it would always be one of those things I’d regret.”

However, as he filled in the lengthy application, Dr. Jamieson realized he had much of the experience the CSA was looking for.

“I was checking off a lot of their boxes, and so I started thinking I might actually have a chance.” — Dr. John Jamieson

His research in the Arctic and at sea fit the CSA’s criteria of experience working in harsh or isolated environments. They also wanted to know if he could work in operational environments or with robotics. While on ships, Dr. Jamieson works around cranes and high-tech electronics, and collects samples with underwater remotely operated vehicles.

“As I worked through the process, I saw I was checking off a lot of their boxes, and so I started thinking I might actually have a chance. That got me a little excited.”

Ultimate destination

Strict confidentiality agreements signed with the CSA prevent Dr. Jamieson from discussing the next elimination challenges until after they take place.

“I would like to continue exploring, and space, be it the International Space Station, the Moon, or even further, is the ultimate destination for discovery.” — Dr. John Jamieson

However, he can say several events are coming up, but that he has only been given minimal information — just enough to be able to plan his life around them. And while he says the chances of him becoming Canada’s next astronaut are low, the experience has already been worth it.

“My career as a geologist has been driven by a passion for exploration, discovery, and scientific understanding. In this way, the job of both astronaut and geologist are very similar,” he said.

“Having ventured down to the depths of our oceans, I would like to continue exploring, and space, be it the International Space Station, the Moon, or even further, is the ultimate destination for discovery. The opportunity to be a part of this endeavour, and share these accomplishments and challenges with the rest of the world, would be a challenge and tremendous honour.”

Memorial connection

In addition to Dr. Jamieson, there is another Memorial connection to the CSA’s shortlist: Crystal Laflamme, an Ottawa, Ont., native, earned a master’s degree at Memorial. She is a research fellow in geology/geochemistry in Perth, Australia.

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