Orbiting astronaut gets honorary degree
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 8, 2009 | 1:10 PM MT
The University of Calgary granted an honorary degree to a Canadian astronaut orbiting the Earth Wednesday.
Robert Thirsk received the university's highest honour — an honorary doctor of laws —via a live link between the International Space Station and the Eckhardt-Gramatte Concert Hall on campus.
“If I can’t be in Calgary, I think the second-best place to be is in space," Thirsk said from 400 kilometres above the Earth.
The ceremony was emotional for the audience made up mostly of teenagers. Some were crying.
"We were listening to NASA and the Canadian Space Agency talk to each other. And then when his image popped up on the big screen, everybody took a big gasp and were cheering and were so happy," said CBC News' Nirmala Naidoo.
A friend on the ground accepted the degree on Thirsk's behalf, but up above, the astronaut struggled with a convocation cape he had brought on the trip, trying to keep it from floating away.
"When I was a student at the University of Calgary, 33 years ago, I had a dream of one day flying in space, of being an astronaut," Thirsk said.
"It's a real special honour for me to be able to fly in space and talk to my University of Calgary colleagues and friends from orbit, to get the message across that education is the key to dreams coming true. There is one thing in Canada that we do well, and that is educating university students."
Thirsk earned a mechanical engineering degree from the university in 1976. He also has two master's degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a medical degree from McGill University.
Thirsk blasted off in a Soyuz spacecraft in May, beginning a record-setting six-month mission at the International Space Station. It is his second mission in space. He made his first 16-day space flight aboard the U.S. space shuttle Columbia in 1996.
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