University of Calgary alumnus and Canadian astronaut, Robert Thirsk (BSc’76), received an Honorary Degree from his alma mater on July 8, 2009 while on a 189-day mission aboard the International Space Station. The first Canadian to receive an Honorary Degree via live downlink from space, Thirsk was also the first Canadian to fly in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and the first Canadian Space Agency astronaut to spend 6 months in orbit aboard the Space Station.
“If I can’t be in Calgary, I think the second-best place to be is in space,” said Thirsk who did a weightless summersault to express his excitement at receiving the Honorary Degree. “When I was a student at UofC 33 years ago, I had a dream of one day flying in space and being an astronaut. Fulfilling that dream is a great feeling. Education really is the key to making your dreams come true.”
A University of Calgary mechanical engineering graduate, Thirsk later earned two master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a medical degree from McGill University. Dr Thirsk served as a Flight Engineer on Expedition 20/21, a 6 month tour of duty and the first time a Canadian took part in a long duration mission. While on the mission he had responsibility for maintenance and repair of the space station, and for conducting experiments on behalf of Canadian and international researchers that will set the stage for future long-distance missions to the moon and Mars.
The Honorary Degree was conferred during a live convocation ceremony on the University of Calgary campus which Thirsk was virtually present at via live satellite downlink. (Watch the video) “To say we are watching this mission with great pride and interest is an understatement,” U of C President Harvey Weingarten told assembled guests, which included nearly 100 young teens from university summer camp programs. “Dr. Thirsk is a tremendous ambassador for the University of Calgary and for Canada. His accomplishments are beyond impressive and he is a thoroughly genuine and compassionate person.” Thirsk returned to campus on February 8, 2010 to accept the honorary degree in person.
In addition to his honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary, Thirsk received the distinguished alumni award in 1985 and he is an Officer of the Order of Canada. Thirsk was elected the 13th chancellor of the UofC in May 2014.