Biography of Dr. Robert (Bob) Brent Thirsk

Bob Thirsk

Birthplace and date: Born August 17, 1953, New Westminster, British Columbia.

Education: Bob attended primary and secondary schools in British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Calgary in 1976, a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1978, a Doctorate of Medicine from McGill University in 1982, and a Master of Business Administration from the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1998.

Professional Societies: College of Family Physicians of Canada, College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, British Columbia Medical Association, Ontario Medical Association, Canadian Medical Association, Aerospace Medical Association, Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute, Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario.

Special Honours: Gold Medal, Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists, and Geophysicists of Alberta, 1976.  Distinguished Alumni Award, University of Calgary, 1985.  NASA Space Flight Medal, 1996 and 2009.  Honorary Member, College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, 1997.  Gold Medal, Professional Engineers of Ontario, 1997.  Neil J. Armstrong Award, Aero Space Museum of Calgary, 2001.  Alouette Award – The Tomatosphere Team, Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute, 2007.  Honorary Doctorates from the University of Calgary, 2009; the University of New Brunswick, 2010; Simon Fraser University, 2011; and Ryerson University, 2012.  International Cooperation in Cosmonautics Medal, Russian Federal Space Agency, 2009.  Yuri Gagarin Medal, Federation of Cosmonautics of Russia, 2009.  NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, 2009.  Paul Harris Fellow, The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International, 2010.  Outer Space Exploration Medal of Merit, President of the Russian Federation, 2011.  Sandford Fleming Medal, Council of the Royal Canadian Institute for the Advancement of Science, 2012.  Order of British Columbia, 2012.  In honour: Robert Thirsk High School, Calgary, 2012.

Experience: Bob was selected in December 1983 for the Canadian Astronaut Program. He began astronaut training in February 1984 and served as backup payload specialist to Marc Garneau for the October 1984 Space Shuttle Mission STS-41G.

Bob has been involved in various Canadian Space Agency projects including parabolic flight campaigns and mission planning. He served as crew commander for two space mission simulations: the seven-day CAPSULS mission in 1994, at Defence Research and Development Canada in Toronto, and the 11-day NEEMO 7 undersea mission in 2004 at the National Undersea Research Center in Key Largo, Florida.  He led an international research team investigating the effect of weightlessness on the heart and blood vessels.

Bob is a strong promoter of a Canadian economy based upon exploration and innovation. He encourages young Canadians to build their dreams upon a solid educational foundation and advanced skills.  He works with educational specialists in Canada to develop space-related curriculum for grade school students.  Initiatives such as Space for Species, Tomatosphere and From Blue To Red have allowed millions of young Canadians to experience the thrill of scientific discovery.

Bob also holds an Adjunct Faculty position at International Space University.  He co-leads a research team of ISU alumni investigating the effect of spaceflight on neuroperception.

In 1998, Bob was assigned by the Canadian Space Agency to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to pursue mission specialist training. This training program involved advanced instruction on both Shuttle and International Space Station (ISS) systems, EVA (spacewalking), robotic operations, and Russian language. Within the NASA Astronaut Office, Bob served as a CapCom (capsule communicator) for the International Space Station program.

In 2004, Bob trained at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre near Moscow and became certified as a Flight Engineer for the Soyuz spacecraft. He served as backup Flight Engineer to European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori for the Soyuz 10S taxi mission to the ISS in April 2005. During this 10-day mission, Bob worked as Eurocom (European CapCom) at ESA's Columbus Control Centre in Germany. In February 2008, Bob again performed Eurocom duties from Germany in support of ISS Expedition 16 crew activities.

Spaceflight Experience: In June and July 1996, Bob flew as a payload specialist aboard Space Shuttle mission STS-78, the Life and Microgravity Spacelab (LMS) mission. During this 17-day flight aboard Columbia, he and his six crewmates performed 43 international experiments devoted to the study of life and materials sciences. The life science experiments investigated changes in plants, animals, and humans under space flight conditions. The materials science experiments examined protein crystallization, fluid physics and high-temperature solidification of multi-phase materials in a weightless environment.

In 2009 Bob became the first Canadian astronaut to fly a long duration expedition aboard the International Space Station. He and two crewmates launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 27 May aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. When their Soyuz vehicle docked with the nearly-complete Station two days later, the ISS became home for the first time to a permanent crew of six. As members of the ISS Expedition 20/21 crew, Bob and his five international crewmates performed an unprecedented amount of multidisciplinary research, complex robotic operations, and maintenance and repair work of Station systems and payloads. Following the undocking of his Soyuz spacecraft from the Station and landing back in Kazakhstan on December 1st, Bob Thirsk had lived and worked in space for another 188 days during this second voyage to space.

Dr. Thirsk resigned as astronaut and left the Canadian Space Agency in 2012 to join the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in Ottawa.  As Vice-President of Public, Government and Institute Affairs, Bob oversees the thirteen institutes dedicated to specific health care issues such as aging and cancer research.

Follow Robert on Twitter (@RobertThirsk)!

August 2012