Payette's space-travel career may be over

Julie Payette, one of Canada's best-known astronauts, is getting ready to hang up her spacesuit after a milestone-studded career.
Astronaut Julie Payette, shown on the Endeavour space shuttle in July 2009, relied on docking technology developed during Apollo to board the International Space Station. ((Reuters/NASA))

One of Canada's best-known astronauts is getting ready to hang up her spacesuit after a milestone-studded career that featured two memorable trips to space.

Julie Payette became the first Canadian to visit the International Space Station in 1999 and, a decade later, participated in a unique moment where two Canadians met in space for the first time.

But the Quebec native says she doesn't figure among the astronauts the Canadian Space Agency is looking at for future flights.

When asked if there were any plans for a return to space, Payette's response was: "Not according to the Canadian Space Agency."

"The Canadian Space Agency doesn't have any plans for me," she added in an interview with The Canadian Press.

CSA president Steve MacLean would not comment on whether any other jobs with the space agency were being offered to Payette, saying only that options were being discussed.

Other Canadians prepare for future missions

Canada's two newest astronauts — David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen — are continuing their training, but are not expected to blast off for several years.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield has also been tapped for a future space flight.

The 46-year-old Payette, who has two children, also said she was "way too young to retire."

"I'm looking at the possibilities and there's plenty out there, so we will see what will happen," she added.

The Montreal-born Payette ruled out a future in the political arena, pointing out that one of her old colleagues already had a monopoly on that career path.

"Marc Garneau is out there, we have one in politics," she said, referring to the astronaut-turned-MP.

Payette receives medal

Payette made her comments earlier this week in an interview from Houston as she prepared to receive an Exceptional Service Award from NASA.

On its website, NASA says the medal is awarded for "significant, sustained performance characterized by unusual initiative or creative ability."

MacLean, a former astronaut who has also received the medal, said it's awarded to astronauts who have made two trips into space.

Payette flew on the U.S. space shuttle Discovery in 1999. During that mission the crew performed the first manual docking of the shuttle to the International Space Station.

In July 2009, she served as the flight engineer on the crew of the shuttle Endeavour during a mission to the space station.

While there, Payette visited with fellow Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk, who was spending six months aboard the orbiting space laboratory.

Payette is the second CSA employee to be recently recognized by the Americans for exceptional space service.

Robert Thirsk and Julie Payette look over a model of the space station alongside then industry minister Jim Prentice during a news conference in February 2008 in Montreal announcing their missions. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

Last week, scientist Vicky Hipkin received NASA's Exceptional Public Service Medal, which MacLean described as "the second-highest medal possible." NASA lists its top medal as the Distinguished Public Service Medal.

Hipkin, who is in her 40s, was part of the Canadian science team involved in the Phoenix Mars lander mission, which explored the Arctic region of the Red Planet in 2008.

"This is a stellar individual," MacLean added.

During its Mars mission, Phoenix confirmed and also examined deposits of underground ice.

Alain Berinstain, the CSA's director of science development, said in a statement that Hipkin played an important role.

"Dr. Hipkin has helped Canada make history in space with our contribution to the Phoenix mission," he said.

"We are lucky to have Vicky at the Canadian Space Agency, and it is generous of NASA to recognize the excellence of non-NASA people like her."