Robert Thirsk

Former CSA Astronaut; currently Chancellor of the University of Calgary

I trained for and flew on two space missions: STS-78 space shuttle mission in 1996 and ISS Expedition 20/21 in 2009

I was born/grew up in: I was born in New Westminster, BC and have lived in several towns in western Canada.

I now live in: Ottawa, ON

I completed my training/education at: University of Calgary, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, McGill University

Describe what you do at work.

I have flown on two space missions as a member of the Canadian Space Agency’s astronaut corps. I first flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1996 with six international crewmates as part of the Life and Microgravity Spacelab Mission. This 17-day mission was devoted to the study of life and materials sciences.

In 2009 I launched aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). As members of the ISS Expedition 20/21 crew, my five crewmates and I performed multidisciplinary research which will bring benefit to world citizens and enable future space exploration. During the 188-day expedition, my crew also performed robotic operations and maintenance of Station systems and payloads.

When I was a student I enjoyed:

How does your job affect people’s lives?

The research work that I have performed in space will help future astronauts explore further and longer into our solar system. This same research also returns benefits to Earth society, especially to health care providers and patients.

What motivates you in your career?

I wish to encourage students in their studies and to inspire all Canadians to follow their dreams. I promote a Canadian society based upon exploration, innovation and lifelong learning.

When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:

Describe your career path to this career.

I received degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Calgary and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I also hold a Doctorate of Medicine from McGill University, and a Master of Business Administration from the MIT Sloan School of Management. This educational path may seem at first to be convoluted. However, it was logically designed to pursue personal goals at each moment of my life

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

  • Wilderness camping
  • Fitness training
  • Playing the piano
  • Driving my convertible sports car

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

  • Put an educational foundation under your career dreams
  • Stay out of your comfort zone

CurioCity Careers

We hope you enjoyed learning about this great STEM career! The information in this career profile was provided by this individual especially for CurioCity. We hope it helped give you a sense of what this type of job is really like.

Let’s Talk Science is pleased to provide you with this information as you explore future career options. Many careers require a background in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Even jobs that don’t use specific STEM concepts on a day-to-day basis benefit from the skills gained through a study of STEM. People with a STEM background are very much in demand by employers across all career sectors. If you would like to learn about more careers that have a STEM connection, visit

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