Julie Payette: Things to know about the woman chosen as the new governor general
Julie Payette is going from depths of outer space to the stately corridors of Rideau Hall.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that the former astronaut will be Canada’s 29th governor general.
Born in Montreal, the 53-year-old Payette is best known for logging more than 600 hours in space over two NASA flights, STS-96 in 1999 on the Space Shuttle Discovery, and STS-127 in 2009 on the Space Shuttle Endeavour. She has operated the iconic Canadarm in space, and she was the first Canadian to board the International Space Station.
But Payette also neatly ticks two key boxes for the Trudeau Liberals: upholding the tradition of selecting a francophone governor-general when an anglophone leaves the job; and following through on the government’s push for more women in key leadership roles.
Payette was picked from among 5,330 applicants in 1992 to be one of four new astronauts with the Canadian Space Agency. She was the second Canadian woman to go into space, and retired from the Canada Space Agency in 2013.
Roberta Bondar, Canada's first female astronaut, said before Payette was selected that she would bring more than just a lengthy resume to the role.
“Let’s face it, Julie has represented our country in a stellar fashion, if I may use that star term, every time she was in space and in between,” Bondar told CTV News Channel. “She has a presence.”
Here are a few more key facts about Payette:
- Payette speaks four languages in addition to English and French: Spanish, Italian, Russian and German.
- She is a serious athlete who enjoys running, skiing, racquetball and scuba diving.
- Like many astronauts, she has a commercial pilot’s licence. Hers includes an endorsement for float planes.
- She orbited Earth more than 400 times during her two space missions.
- She carried the Olympic flag in the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Vancouver Games, and sits on the board of the Own the Podium program.
- She was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2010.
- She has a lot of degrees: three regular and 17 honorary.
- Her early work as an engineer involved computer speech recognition and natural language processing, sort of like an early version of Apple’s Siri assistant.
- She can play the piano and sing. She has sung with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, the Piacere Vocale in Basel, Switzerland, and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in Toronto.
- While working for NASA in 2006, she worked as CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator) at the Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas for Space Shuttle mission STS-121. CAPCOM is the responsible for all communications between ground controllers and astronauts in space.
- She sits on the board of Drug Free Kids Canada.
- She is listed as a National Champion of the Trans Canada Trail.