By Joseph Henschel
OCTOBER 24, 2002 - VOLUME 35 NUMBER 04
Canada's first woman in space was at McGill last week. Roberta
Bondar, a neurologist and scientist by training, was invited
by the University's Science Undergraduate Society to inspire
students to follow her lead and tackle science careers themselves.
Bondar, who traveled aboard the space shuttle Discovery in
1992, spoke at Pollack Hall, Oct. 6. She talked about her
life's work, which includes photography and piloting, and
stressed the importance of learning.
"Opportunities for the future are available for those
that have a broad base of knowledge, are flexible, and are
able to maintain their interests throughout their entire life,"
During her talk, Bondar repeatedly challenged her audience.
"Keep moving forward, be creative and get something done
with your life while you can," she said, encouraging
science students to take an interest in the arts and arts
students to take an interest in science.
Speaking very passionately, she said, "We have to keep
putting education as a priority; use your opportunity to instill
a love of learning."
Recalling her own educational journey, she jokingly said she'd
spent 18 years in university, getting her hands on every degree
possible so that NASA could not refuse her. Today she holds
an honorary doctorate from McGill and other universities,
the NASA Space Medal, is an Officer of the Order of Canada,
a Laureate of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, has a photography
exhibit on a national tour, and her new book, Canada: Landscape
of Dreams, will be released next week.
About NASA, Bondar said that the benefits of its space program
are tremendous. "Not just in what they've done but in
their potential," she said. "Going somewhere you've
never been before creates new problems that need to be solved.
The space program opens people's minds to the world and it
provides a new opportunity for vision. We look to space to
try and solve some of our earthly problems and through which,
insights into ourselves are achieved."
Referring to the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Bondar said
all that was visible was a tiny plume of smoke rising from
Manhattan island. "But on Earth we know that those events
affected our entire social construct," she stressed.
She told her audience that they have not just an opportunity,
but a responsibility, to make the world a better place. "Plants
die or mutate; we need to recognize our fragility and use
technology to adapt to change," she said.
Citing NASA's own ability to change after catastrophes like
the 1986 Challenger crash, she said, "More than 200 changes
were made after the Challenger tragedy, but that's the only
way to move forward. The shuttle's re-launch was the idea
of the future."
Bondar cautioned that success is achieved through balance
-- advancing science and technology while maintaining human
contact. "There's no magic silver bullet, [rather] it's
a perspective of life: to be stimulated your entire life.
Opening your mind is the reason for going; it provides the
reason for changing your vision that brings you to where you