Calgary

To infinity and beyond: Calgarians shortlisted to become Canada's next astronauts

Calgarian Jameel Janjua’s current day job affords him some pretty spectacular views, but he’s hoping his next one will be even better.

Jameel Janjua one of 72 shortlisted from a field of nearly 4,000

Jameel Janjua is one of 72 shortlisted from a field of nearly 4,000 in the running to become the next astronauts with the Canadian Space Agency. (Christopher Okula)

Calgarian Jameel Janjua's day job affords him some pretty spectacular views, but he's hoping his next one will be even better.

Janjua, an experimental test pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, is one of only 72 applicants who remain from a field of nearly 4,000 — all vying to become one of two new astronauts with the Canadian Space Agency.

"When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time looking up, whether it was day or night," he told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"During the day, I was always trying to spot an airplane, and at nighttime ... I'd look at the stars and wonder what was out there," Janjua said.

"It led me to aviation and engineering — and thankfully both of those are the basis in some ways of human space exploration."

Currently stationed at Edwards Air Force Base in California as part of a bilateral exchange program with the United States Air Force, the 38-year-old spends his days flying F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, working out of the same base where Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier back in 1947.

RCAF pilot Jameel Janjua flies a USAF F-16 'Viper' during a recent test flight above California. Janjua is there as part of an exchange with the USAF. (Christopher Okula)

"We do automatic collision avoidance systems, so we have airplanes that can miss the ground on their own and they also can miss other aircraft on their own," he said. "It's pretty fun."

Regularly cruising at twice the speed of sound, Janjua says his day job isn't quite as exciting as that of Maverick and Goose in the cult hit movie Top Gun.

"We don't pop our collars like they did in Top Gun when we cruise around," he said with a laugh.

"We do a fair bit more safety planning and a lot of meticulous preparation, but there are some times when the views are as nice as you've seen in the movies."

Even considering becoming an astronaut takes a lot of education and training.

After graduating from Western Canada High School in southwest Calgary, Janjua earned a bachelor's degree in chemical and materials engineering from the Royal Military College of Canada, then a master's degree in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and a master's in flight test engineering from the United States Air Force Test Pilot School.

RCAF pilot Jameel Janjua refuels his USAF F-16 'Viper' from a United States Air Force KC-10A 'Extender' during a test flight above California. Janjua is part of an exchange with the USAF. (Christopher Okula)

"It's something I've wanted to do my whole life and it's a next step," he said of wanting to become an astronaut.

"I work with great people in big teams that, for me, do big things — I'd like to carry that forward and help the space agency help Canadians make things better by being an astronaut."

A few of the other candidates still in the running are also from the Calgary area or have ties here. They include:

  • Michelle Whitty, a captain in the Canadian Armed Forces and qualified combat engineering officer currently completing a residency in family medicine at the University of Calgary.
  • Jennifer Anne MacKinnon Sidey, who was born in Calgary and is now a lecturer in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge.
  • Margriet Greidanus, an emergency physician and trauma specialist at Foothill Medical Centre, who was born in High River.

Janjua says a decision is expected from the Canadian Space Agency sometime this summer, when the two candidates selected will be brought to Houston.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

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