Thirsk receives an honourary degree in space
Published Wednesday, July 8, 2009 6:05PM EDT
Astronaut Robert Thirsk has become the first Canadian to receive an honourary degree from the University of Calgary in an out-of-the-world method, floating 400 km above the earth.
Thirsk's current six-month assignment to the International Space Station meant that he couldn't take part in the July 8 convocation ceremony. He joined the celebrations via a live video link.
The University of Calgary honoured Thirsk with an Honorary Doctor of Laws, a first for Canada and a first for space.
"If I can't be in Calgary, I think the second-best place to be is in space," Thirsk said. He performed a weightless somersault for his earthbound audience.
Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata helped Thirsk put on the crimson and yellow convocation cape, but later had to remove it. In the zero-gravity environment, the cape repeatedly floated up in his face.
During his acceptance speech, Thirsk acknowledged the people supporting the ISS mission. "Space flight is not something an individual does. It is something that a team does," he said. "An honourary degree like this does not go to an individual, it goes to a group of people."
After the degree presentation, he answered questions from children and explained his day-to-day life in space.
Thirsk, a native of New Westminster, B.C, earned his first degree at the University of Calgary 33 years ago in mechanical engineering. He went on to earn two master's degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a medical degree from McGill University.
The astronaut's first trip in space was in 1996 on a 17-day mission aboard the space shuttle Columbia. The 55-year-old is currently representing the Canadian Space Agency on his second trip, arriving at the station on May 29 on board a Russian Soyuz rocket.
He is part of a full six-person crew, two Russian cosmonauts and one astronaut each from the United States, Japan and Belgium.
The mission will take six months and will contribute to the future long-distance missions to the moon and Mars.
Canadian astronaut Julie Payette is due to join Thirsk on the ISS next week. She and six other astronauts are scheduled to blast off on Saturday for a 16-day mission.
It will be the first time Canada has two astronauts on board the space station at the same time.
The honourary degree is the university's highest award. Past recipients include Roberta Bondar, Stephen Lewis, Al Gore and Mikhail Gorbachev.