When I grow up... - Macleans.ca

When I grow up…

I want to be a doctor. In space.


Canadian astronaut Dr. Dave Williams

It’s a universal fact: every kid’s dream in kindergarten is to become an astronaut. Well, ignoring the occasional firefighter, cowboy, and dentist wannabes. Okay, nobody ever really wants to be a dentist. They just wake up in dental school one day. There are also kids like my younger brother David who, in grade one, announced that when he grew up, he just wanted to sit in the back of taxis and talk to people. In other words, get an arts degree.

But after checking out the Canadian Space Agency’s website, I realize that my four-year-old self had it totally wrong. There’s a job out there that’s actually higher on the cool-o-meter than astronaut. It’s a combination more ingenious than chocolate and peanut butter.

It’s an astronaut. With an MD.

The idea of orbiting thousands of kilometers above the Earth is awesome. And messing around with bacterial life forms is even more cool (and is just begging for a broken test tube that leads to a deadly super virus). But the two of them? Combined? It means only one thing: messing around with bacterial life forms in zero gravity.

Someone I know recently applied to the Canadian Space Agency’s national astronaut recruitment campaign, which will replace the two retiring Canadian astronauts. First I had to get over the fact that Canada has a space program. And unlike Canadian Idol, it isn’t just the annoying younger brother of the American version. We actually send people into space. For sleep-overs at the Space Station.

It was fascinating to watch someone go through the application process. And it was even more interesting to learn some of the cool little details about living in outer space. Like how astronauts have to choose what foods they’re going to eat in space several months before the actual launch. And since they’re surrounded by microgravity, dry foods could contaminate the environment. Meaning, astronauts on the space station have an even bigger threat than asteroids, black holes and zombie aliens: a loaf of bread. Extra crumbly.

When an astronaut sneezes? There’s an emergency evacuation and contamination clean-up crew, and the person who sneezed has to suffer through dirty looks for the rest of the mission.

Then there’s the fact that while astronauts are orbiting the earth, they experience 16 sunsets every 24 hours. Plus the “NASA tradition” of having wake-up calls during shuttle missions. A song is broadcasted into the cabin every morning, selected in advance by each astronaut. So there’s an even more efficient way to make every other astronaut hate your guts than just sneezing all over the dashboard.

As in, choosing my favourite song as a wake-up call.