(Header Image via Speakers’ Spotlight)
Written By: Elena Djordjic
Dr. Roberta Bondar is Canada’s first female astronaut, as well as the first neurologist in space. Dr. Bondar completed a B.Sc. in zoology and agriculture at the University of Guelph in 1968, an M.Sc. in experimental pathology at the University of Western Ontario in 1971, a PhD in neurobiology at the University of Toronto in 1974, and an M.D. at McMasters University in 1977.
Dr. Bondar completed her degree at the University of Toronto with a PhD thesis titled “Neurofibrillar and Neurofilamentous Changes in Goldfish (crassium auratus l.) in Relation to Temperature”. Dr. Bondar was the first graduate student to use an electron microscope, then located in University of Toronto Mississauga’s very own Science Wing at the college. After responding to an ad by Canada’s Astronaut Program in the Globe and Mail, Dr. Bondar was selected to be an international payload specialist on the space shuttle Discovery in January 1992. Shortly after her acceptance in the program, Dr. Bondar gave a talk at the University of Toronto titled “Spaced Out”. During the talk, Dr. Bondar screened a short film, An Arm in Space, which documented the “Canadarm”, a robotic arm designed to function in zero gravity, and talked about how her medical background would be used to study the nervous system’s response to motion sickness – critical research for spacesuit design.
In 1992, Dr. Bondar spent 8 days, 1 hour, and 46 minutes in space. After successfully completing her mission, she left the Space Agency in the same year. In a 2010 Varsity interview, titled “A View from Orbit”, Alexandar Zivojnovic talked to Dr. Bondar about her life almost two decades after her time as an astronaut, mainly focusing on photographic pursuits and philosophical revelations in space. Dr. Bondar is the author of four photo essay books featuring her photography of natural landscapes, one of them, Passionate Vision: Discovering Canada’s National Parks, was accepted by the Canadian Museum of Nature as its showcase exhibition for the summer of 2000, and was toured across Canada as well. In the article, Dr. Bondar expressed concern for the environment and stated that the photo-project was a way to remind people of the beauty and importance of natural environments.
A tribute to Dr. Roberta Bondar is located in the Toronto Entertainment District! In June 2011, it was announced that Dr. Bondar would receive a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, making her the first astronaut to receive that honour.