Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Astronaut Robert Thirsk returned to Canada on February 19, 2010, after successfully completing a six-month mission onboard the International Space Station. Steve MacLean, CSA President, along with Thirsk’s colleagues and a Beaconsfield high school class, welcomed him back during an event held at the CSA headquarters in Longueuil, Québec.
Robert Thirsk accomplished many "firsts" during this mission, namely becoming the first Canadian to fly onboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft which launched on May 27, 2009 and landed on December 1, 2009 in the plains of Kazakhstan. He is also the first Canadian to have sojourned in space for such an extended period and still holds the Canadian record for the longest spaceflight, totaling more than 125 million kilometers over his six-month stay (188 days). He orbited the Earth more than 2,900 times, spent more than 230 hours exercising and conducted about 236 hours of scientific research.
On May 27, 2009, Canadian astronaut Dr. Robert (Bob) Thirsk launched in a Russian Soyuz vehicle from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to undertake an unprecedented six-month stay on the International Space Station (ISS). Working with NASA (USA), Roscosmos (Russia), ESA (Europe), and JAXA (Japan), Dr. Thirsk and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) had the opportunity to demonstrate the foremost advances in Canadian technology, conduct valuable research experiments for national and international scientists, and bring everyday Canadians closer to the experience of space than ever before.
Internationally, this mission represents 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, marks for the very first time that the ISS will be realizing its full potential: six astronauts will be living and working together in the world’s largest orbiting microgravity scientific laboratory.
Dr. Robert (Bob) Thirsk: Astronaut, Scientist, Pioneer
During Expedition 20/21, Dr. Thirsk assumed many responsibilities. In addition to being appointed Crew Medical Officer, 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 International Space Station: Canadarm2.
Science Like Never Before
One of the ways in which Expedition 20/21 differs from all previous long-duration missions is the magnitude and scope of science to be undertaken on the ISS. Dr. Thirsk will conduct 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.
In summary, Dr. Thirsk conducted the following research:
Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Control on return from the ISS (CCISS): CCISS is an ongoing study that investigates the effects of weightlessness on the human body. In particular the experiment examined changes in blood flow and required Bob Thirsk to monitor his blood pressure, heart rate and other aspects of his cardiovascular system. The results could be applied to elderly people suffering from dizziness and fainting spells, or those afflicted with heart disease caused by a sedentary lifestyle.
Bodies in the Space Environment (BISE) examined what visual and bodily cues astronauts use to determine their perception of up and down in a near-weightless environment. The results will be compared to Earth-based data and could be instrumental in helping people who experience balance and movement control disorders.
Advanced Plant Experiments on Orbit (APEX-Cambium): APEX-Cambium looks at the effects of gravity on the type of wood produced by growing trees, which has important implications for all wood product industries.
Binary Colloidal Alloy Test (BCAT-5) studied the physical properties of refined suspension colloidal mixtures without the masking effect of Earth’s gravity. The results could lead to improved manufacturing processes—such as extending the life of fabric softeners—and the creation of new materials.
Selectable Optical Diagnostic Instrument (SODI-IVIDIL) investigated various types of diffusion in a near-weightless environment. The potential applications of this study include, among others: oil recovery, materials processing, biological transport, and oceanic flows, all governed by the process of diffusion.
Marangoni Experiment in Space (MEIS-2) used the near-weightlessness of the International Space Station to apply surface-driven convection to liquid bridges, without the distorting effects of gravity-based phenomena in the creation of crystals. As liquid bridges are a method to fashion semi-conductor crystals, results of this experiment could have far reaching implications on future design and manufacture of microprocessors and other electronics.
Image Reversal in Space (Iris) is an educational experiment developed by students at the International Space University. This experiment studied the effects of microgravity on how people perceive 2D and 3D objects. The experiment and its software were designed by a multidisciplinary group of students, giving them valuable experience as they prepare to launch their own careers in space.
At the Forefront of Canadian Technology
During the mission, Dr. Thirsk controlled Canadarm2, the 17 metre-long Canadian robotic arm, that can be operated to move with seven degrees of freedom of movement.
The use of Canadarm2 and the Mobile Base have been absolutely critical to every ISS assembly and maintenance mission since its installation on the Station. During this Expedition Mission, Dr. Thirsk and his crewmates performed one of the most difficult tasks. Canadarm2 was used to carry out its first-ever free-flying capture of an unfastened object in orbit, the Japanese “H-II Transfer Vehicle” (HTV), carrying supplies and provisions for the crew.
Back on Earth, Dr. Thirsk has begun a national postflight tour across Canada to present his mission to fellow Canadians. For more information on Dr. Thirsk’s mission, please visit the Expedition 20/21 Web pages on the Canadian Space Agency Web site.
This short video recaps the most exciting aspects of the first Canadian long-duration mission in space. This mission marks the dawn of a golden era for the International Space Station, now established as a six-person, orbital laboratory. Canadians can all take pride in our country's contributions.