Canada’s latest astronaut selection process supported by the Defence Team

Canada's two new astronauts.
After a year-long evaluation, the Canadian Space Agency selected Lieutenant-Colonel Joshua Kutryk and Dr. Jennifer Sidey from among 17 finalists and 3772 applicants to be Canada’s newest astronauts. Photo: CSA

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This is the first in a three-part article series on the support the Defence Team provided to the Canadian Space Agency during its 2017 astronaut recruitment campaign.

By Diane Riddell

It was a chance of a lifetime for anyone dreaming of space when the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) launched its latest astronaut recruitment campaign last year – the first since the last Canadian astronauts were announced in 2009. As done previously for the past three campaigns, the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) were once again called upon to provide support.

Preparations began six months prior to the announcement of the campaign. A number of different areas within DND and the CAF aligned to support the effort in many areas, including testing, fitness, and medical. Two different sections within Military Personnel Command joined efforts to create an innovative partnership that would give the CSA something new: assessment centres to put the astronaut candidates through their paces. The Directorate of Fitness (DFIT) and the Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis (DGMPRA) offered to fully integrate fitness data with cognitive, behavioural and other information to give the CSA a comprehensive picture of candidates’ performance in all respects. While the CSA had used some facilities within DND for astronaut testing in the past, this was the first time a fully integrated approach was offered for the astronaut selection process.

“There are other people who run assessment centres,” says Dr. Joy Klammer, director of Research Personnel Generation at DGMPRA. “But there is no one out there who has the ability to marry the information about physical fitness with other elements. We have the resources, the technical expertise, the knowledge and know-how to take these projects on, lead them and support an agency like the CSA.”

To get started, a team of assessors went to NASA to interview serving and retired Canadian and American astronauts to better understand the knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform as an astronaut. At the same time, another DFIT team was assessing physical requirements. Armed with a list of competencies derived from the interviews and other information, they lined up tests to measure candidates’ performance. Some were adjusted from existing tests, while others were created from scratch. Some measured physical attributes, others measured other behavioural competencies, and some assessed both at the same time.

As all of this was occurring, CSA worked with the Public Service Commission to conduct the first screening and tests. Initial medicals were completed for the top 100 candidates at CAF bases across the country, highlighting another unique CAF capacity.

“Because the CAF has standardized medical testing across the country,” said Major Brian Statham, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Director General Space representative and DND and CAF liaison officer to the CSA , “it was able to offer the same standard across the country to the CSA.”

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