An air force pilot and a lecturer at the University of Cambridge have been named Canada’s newest astronauts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Jennifer Sidey of Calgary and Joshua Kutryk of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. will be the Canadian Space Agency’s newest members during Canada Day celebrations marking the country’s 150th birthday on Parliament Hill on Saturday.

“Our new astronauts will represent Canada, advance our understanding of our planets and our universe, and inspire the next generation of Canadians to reach for the stars,” Trudeau said.

After a gruelling selection process that included multiple rounds of rigorous testing, emergency simulations, and robotics training, Sidey, 28, and Kutryk, 35, beat out thousands of other hopefuls vying for the opportunity to join current Canadian astronauts Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques.

The CSA received 3,772 applications for the two spots when the competition opened last summer.

A lifelong dream

Sidey, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge who has also worked as a mechanical engineer, described how she was inspired to become 

an astronaut by Canada’s first female astronaut, Roberta Bondar.

She said she had the opportunity to see Bondar speak in Calgary after she returned home from her mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1992.

“I remember I was so young but that meant a lot to me, to have someone who was that relatable do something so big in Canada. That was huge,” Sidey told CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme in Ottawa after the prime minister’s introduction.

For Kutryk, an air force pilot who also holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master's degree in defence studies, said he was around five or six years old when he knew he wanted to become an astronaut.

He said he was in the Edmonton Space Science Centre when the Canadarm 1, a series of robotic arms used on the space shuttle, was being used in space.

“The Canadian invention, the Canadian system, being used by Canadian astronauts of the likes of Marc Garneau and Bondar and Chris Hadfield shortly thereafter, that was a defining moment for me seeing that work in space, realizing that there were Canadians in space,” Kutryk said.

“I did know right then that was I wanted to work towards.”

‘A very long, tiring year’

Kutryk also discussed the demands of the past year’s application process.

“It’s been a very long, tiring year. The testing has been difficult. The waiting has been difficult,” Kutryk said. “It just feels wonderful to come out the other end.”

The air force test pilot also joked about how the entire process has taken its toll on him. 

“I tell people I feel that I’ve aged maybe five or ten years in a year,” Kutryk said with a laugh.

Sidey credited her experience playing rugby as helping her endure the tests and training.

“Rugby played a big role,” she said. “When I was going through the selection process and I knew that I was going to be motivated by the people that were around me, that’s where the team element definitely came in to play I think.”

Back to school

Before Sidey and Kutryk suit up for space, the pair will head back to school in Houston, Texas for a two-year training program for astronaut candidates. There they will learn about everything from spacewalks to survival training aboard the International Space Station.

“We have so much to learn,” Kutryk said. “But for Jenni and I, the opportunity to learn that, to study at NASA, is a dream come true and it’s something that we’re really looking forward to. That’s the next step and we can’t wait.”

The two new Canadian astronauts will be officially welcomed at the Canadian Space Agency’s headquarters in Quebec on Tuesday.

With files from The Canadian Press