Canadian astronaut Kutryk bound for space station, colleague to back up moon flight
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, November 22, 2023 10:51AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 22, 2023 9:31PM EST
LONGUEUIL, Que. - Canada's newest astronauts were given marching orders Wednesday, with one bound for a sojourn on the International Space Station while the other will serve as backup on a highly anticipated upcoming lunar mission.
Joshua Kutryk's six-month mission aboard the space station, parts of which are celebrating a 25th anniversary this year, will take place no earlier than 2025.
Kutryk, 41, an engineer and colonel in the Royal Canadian Air Force from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., has been working in Houston since 2021 on the Starliner, a Boeing-built spacecraft designed to transport crew to the space station. Kutryk's mission will mark the Starliner's first operational mission.
Astronaut Jenni Gibbons was assigned as the backup to Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen for the historic Artemis II mission to the moon scheduled for November 2024.
In April, Hansen, 47, of London, Ont., was announced as the first Canadian to venture into deep space, joining three NASA astronauts taking part in the first crewed mission to the moon since the final Apollo mission took flight in 1972.
The four astronauts will orbit Earth once before slinging into deep space for a figure-8 manoeuvre around the dark side of the moon, making Canada and the United States the only two countries to have their astronauts venture that far. Gibbons, 35, will train with Hansen and the others and will serve as his replacement if he's unable to take part.
The mission is a precursor to the next phase of Artemis: to put a man and woman on the moon as early as 2025 in service of eventually dispatching astronauts to Mars.
Gibbons said she sees her involvement as an investment for future missions if Canada makes it a priority to have an astronaut on the moon.
She will learn about lunar architecture and procedures, act as a test subject and learn details of the mission from launch to splash down. She will also be a key resource to the crew during that 10-day mission.
“Speaking to people who are so far away, further than anyone has gone, it's an incredible opportunity and operational experience to me,” Gibbons said. “So I look at that as an investment for me and for Canada for what's next.”
Francois-Philippe Champagne, federal minister of innovation, science and industry, made the announcements at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters near Montreal.
Gibbons and Kutryk are Canada's newest astronauts, selected in 2017. The two other active astronauts are Hansen and David Saint-Jacques, who both joined the astronaut corps in 2009.
Saint-Jacques, 53, an astrophysicist and medical doctor from St. Lambert, Que., spent more than six months aboard the International Space Station in 2018 and 2019.
Kutryk will become the fourth Canadian astronaut to serve a long-duration mission on the station, and the first to fly under NASA's commercial crew program. In all, nine Canadians have flown to space, on a total of 17 missions.
“I feel very, very lucky,” Kutryk said of the opportunity. “That space station is a marvel of human engineering and persistence, and it's going to be my home for a very long time.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2023.