Mission Expedition 20/21

Banner of the mission Expedition 20/21

Mission Description

Patch Expedition 20/21
(Source: Canadian Space Agency (CSA))

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From May 27 to December 1, 2009

In 2008, doctor (Dr.) Thirsk was assigned to the crew of Expedition 20/21. This Expedition represents a milestone for the Canadian Space Program since it was the first time a Canadian took part in a long duration mission. Dr. Robert Thirsk had the privilege to expand the boundaries of space exploration by living and working on board the International Space Station (ISS) for six months. The launch took place on May 27, 2009 aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Cosmodrome in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

During this long duration mission Dr. Thirsk assumed responsibilities for the maintenance and repair of the ISS, while conducting experiments on behalf of Canadian and international researchers.

The New Great Canadian Frontier

Since Russia launched Sputnik, the Earth's first artificial satellite in 1957, nation after nation has charted new territory for itself in space. In the spring of 2009, Canada will stepped up to the astronautical plate by combining technological sophistication, cutting-edge scientific research, international collaboration, and the passionate commitment of highly trained astronauts to push this nation towards and beyond a brave new frontier of exploration and scientific discovery.

On May 27, 2009, Canadian astronaut Dr. Robert (Bob) Thirsk launched in a Russian Soyuz vehicle from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, undertaking an unprecedented six-month stay on the ISS. Working with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) United States (U.S.A.), Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), European Space Agency (ESA), and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Dr. Thirsk and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) had the opportunity to demonstrate the foremost advances in Canadian technology, conducting valuable research experiments for national and international scientists, and bringing everyday Canadians closer to the experience of space than ever before.

Space Milestones

Expedition 20/21 established a series of exciting benchmarks for Canada's space program. Dr. Thirsk was the first Canadian astronaut to live and work onboard the ISS for several months in a row- marking a milestone for Canada's Human Space Program. While previous missions have lasted no more than eighteen days, Dr. Thirsk lived and worked in the ISS for six months. In addition, he was the first Canadian astronaut to travel aboard a Russian Soyuz vehicle.

Internationally, this mission represented a significant leap forward in scientific collaboration aboard the ISS. Originally designed and constructed to house six astronauts, the ISS, to date, has provided residency to a maximum of a three-person crew on a permanent basis. Expedition 20/21, marked for the very first time that the ISS will be realizing its full potential: six astronauts living and working together in the world's largest orbiting microgravity scientific laboratory.

As a result, the international six-person crew—consisting of one Canadian, two Americans, two Russians, and one European—had more time than any astronaut before them to conduct scientific experiments in the unique environment of weightlessness. The science performed on Expedition 20/21 provided valuable information to scientists around the world, benefiting both the Canadian and international community.

Dr. Robert (Bob) Thirsk: Astronaut, Scientist, Pioneer

During Expedition 20/21, Dr. Thirsk assumed many responsibilities. In addition to being appointed Crew Medical Officer, Dr. Thirsk was Mission Specialist for Kibo, the on-board Japanese Experiment Facility. He was also a robotics specialist, operating Canada's signature contribution to the ISS: Canadarm2. Finally, Thirsk's duty to perform scientific experiments and demonstrate new Canadian technologies led to advances in knowledge on behalf of the Canadian and international scientific community.

Science Like Never Before

One of the ways in which Expedition 20/21 differed from all previous long-duration missions is the magnitude and scope of science undertaken on the ISS. Dr. Thirsk conducted at least seven Canadian experiments, one of which is in support of a student research project. The results of each study will have important implications for both spaceflight and life on Earth for all Canadians.