Today marks a historic launch of the space shuttle Discovery, carrying the first neurologist to go into space, Dr. Roberta Bondar. She also happened to be the first Canadian woman in space. With multiple advanced degrees including a Masters in experimental pathology, a Ph.D. in neuroscience and an MD Bondar had worked in various research settings including Toronto General Hospital, Tuft’s New England Medical Center, and the Pacific Vascular Institute. At the time of her selection for astronaut training she was working as assistant professor of neurology and director of the multiple sclerosis unit at the McMaster Medical Centre. Her research interest in how the nervous system and the inner ear balancing system as it related to the functioning of the eye was relevant to experiments that were being planned for the first Canadian venture into space. Other research she was undertaking looked into the blood flow in the brain during microgravity, lower body negative pressure and various pathological states. She was selected to begin astronaut training in 1983 and was tapped to fly aboard the shuttle in 1990 and was a crew member on a 1992 shuttle launch.
Bondar was a payload specialist responsible for work sponsored by fourteen nations. After spending eight days working on over forty advanced scientific experiments Bondar returned to Earth and began leading a team to analyze the data from not only her experiments but over 20 separate space missions focusing on the body’s recovery from being exposed to space and astronauts re-adapting to Earth’s environment. She worked in this capacity for over twelve years at NASA determining links between astronauts recovering from the microgravity of space and neurological illnesses here on Earth.
Not only is Bondar a distinguished neuroscientist and astronaut, but she is also a celebrated photographer, publishing four photo essay books expressing an intimate view of the natural world. The Roberta Bondar Foundation was registered by Bondar as non-profit focusing on environmental awareness in 2009 and in 2011 she was the first astronaut to receive a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Bondar continues to speak around the world in her various areas of expertise including environmental interpretation, scientific research, authorship, photography, and her time as an astronaut.
Written by Angela Goad