Birth: December 4, 1945
First Canadian woman in space
Payload specialist on shuttle
Studied effects of microgravity on nervous system
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Today marks a historic launch of the space shuttle Discovery, carrying the first neurologist to go into space, Dr. Roberta Bondar.
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 – 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.
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. 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. As the head of an international space medicine research team at NASA, she helped determine links between astronauts recovering from the microgravity of space and neurological illnesses here on Earth.
Bondar a distinguished neuroscientist and astronaut, but she is also a celebrated photographer. Not only can her work be found in private, corporate and institutional collections but she has published four photo essay books expressing an intimate view of the natural world. Using a significant donation of fine art photography, The Roberta Bondar Foundation is non-profit focusing on environmental awareness. Founded in 2009, it continues its work connecting all generations to the natural world.
Bondar continues to speak around the world in her various areas of expertise including environmental interpretation, scientific research, authorship, photography, her time as an astronaut and the importance of diversity in STEM fields. According to Bondar “There are many things we can start doing to make the world a better place, but all of these things require diversity of thought, diversity of curiosity, and diversity of expertise.”
Written by Angela Goad