October 1, 1999
By Canadian Consulting Engineer
Julie Payette is an engineer and an astronaut (she is also a trained pilot, accomplished pianist, flautist, singer, triathlete and speaks six languages). In May the 35-year old Montrealer blasted off ...
Julie Payette is an engineer and an astronaut (she is also a trained pilot, accomplished pianist, flautist, singer, triathlete and speaks six languages). In May the 35-year old Montrealer blasted off from Kennedy Space Centre on the Shuttle Discovery and became the second female Canadian to go into space. She also became one of the first human beings to visit the new International Space Station orbiting 400 kilometres above the earth. Payette spent 11 days at the station as part of a seven-member crew helping to install new equipment while whizzing around the earth at a speed of 28,000 kilometres an hour.
Payette graduated in electrical engineering from McGill University and has a Master of Applied Science from the University of Toronto. Canadian Consulting Engineer interviewed her in early September.
Could you describe a typical day in space?
It’s different every day. For example the first few hours in orbit were taken to convert the shuttle, which is basically a rocket, into a space ship. We organized the interior, opened the doors of the cargo bay, deployed antennae and so on. The second day we prepared and verified all the equipment for the docking and space walk.
The third day was devoted to approaching the station. First we saw it very far away as a little star, and then we made our way up there. In a very precise, systematic manner — very slow also — we approached, approached, approached, until final contact. All this was done by hand by the commander inside the cockpit with everybody assisting. The next day we had the space walk. I was the main inside supervisor for that. I was there for every single second of the eight hours, watching the cameras and out through the window, making sure and following along with the astronauts, telling them the details of the next task to accomplish. The following day we opened up the space station and went to work repairing electrical systems.
There was very little time to eat. There was no time to do exercise. There was very little time to float by a window and contemplate the beautiful planet passing by. We did that later in the flight when we had a bit more time. But the first four days were extremely busy. And the stakes were high. Things only became easier in the last few days where we managed to take time to come together as a crew and eat together. It was a very precious moment.
What is the purpose of going to space?
This is a huge project at the end of the century by which we are building a laboratory in space to study the effect of weightlessness on long duration missions, on materials, on the human body, on animals and so on. We do that because we want progress and to increase our knowledge.
But one thing I find fascinating about the space station is that it is a collaborative international project meant in a peaceful manner. Several nations have come together to produce hardware, to provide human resources and to work together to provide an outpost of knowledge. Instead of putting money into battling each other, as we have done historically, this time we are working together and I think that is invaluable. CCE