Retired teacher reflects on ‘national treasure’ Roberta Bondar (4 photos)

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Carol Deimling was in Florida in 1992 to see Bondar make history and remembers her later visit to Orillia, where she spoke to students, doctors and business leaders.

The following article was shared by Carol Deimling of Orillia, a retired teacher who has a special connection to Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar.
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On January 22, 1992, Dr. Roberta Bondar became the world’s first neurologist and first female Canadian astronaut to fly aboard the Discovery spacecraft. On January 22, 2022, a 30th anniversary gala was held virtually to celebrate Dr. Bondar’s flight and his subsequent accomplishments.

Dr. Bondar was born in Sault Ste. Married. During the anniversary celebration, she talked about seeing this area between three lakes from the spacecraft. She also said it was a life-changing experience as she first looked out the window of the spacecraft to see Hawaii and the Pacific Ocean – a crucial experience for seeing earth from above.

Aboard the spacecraft, the astronauts experimented for eight days for a total of 40 material and life science experiments as they circled the earth 129 times.

My sister, Dr. Mary Keyes from McMaster University, was a friend of Dr. Bondar. Mary and I were guests at the launch of Cape Canaveral in Florida in 1992. It was a unique experience and I reported the day to a reporter from the Orillia Package and Hours.

At 4am we were located for launch five miles from the launch pad and after liftoff we toured the NASA building and watched a video describing the astronauts who participated in the Discovery flight. Really an exciting day for us.

Dr. Bondar had exemplary qualifications to be chosen for the flight as she had attended the University of Guelph for her Bachelor of Science in Zoology and Agriculture, a Masters at Western University and a PhD in Neurology at the University of Toronto.

After completing her PhD, she obtained her MD from McMaster University in Hamilton. In total, she had earned seven degrees, earning a pilot’s license as well as skydiving and scuba diving qualifications. She said at the celebration that she was amazed at how freefall the brain can be in zero gravity. There is so much to learn about how the body reacts.

Since the 1992 flight, Dr. Bondar has accomplished a great deal. As a guest speaker and lecturer, Dr. Bondar was a guest at Orillia and we had the privilege of hearing her speak to two groups of high school students.

She has also spoken at medical rounds at the Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital and in the evenings addressed business leaders in the community at the Chamber of Commerce dinner at the Fern Resort.

In addition, she honed her photography expertise by taking training and taking photos of all of Canada’s national parks. Later, she created the Roberta Bondar Foundation which responds to the recognized need within society to educate and improve knowledge of the environment in a way that stimulates interest, enthusiasm, creativity, the responsibility and, for some, the desire to study in this field.

Currently, she is working with NASA to verify the migratory corridors of birds. His foundation organizes environmental challenges for school students. One of the challenges is the Bondar Challenge in which students are given cameras to take photos of the environment and connect with the world they live in. In this way, she connects people and infuses science with art and art with science. Schools and camps deliver this innovative program to more than 3,500 young people each year in person or online.

On January 22 this month, during the virtual gala celebration, a number of dignitaries spoke of the great impact Dr. Bondar had during and since the Discovery flight. The Governor General of Canada, Her Excellency the Right Honorable Mary Simon, the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honorable Justin Trudeau, Lieutenant G. of Ontario, His Honor the Honorable Elizabeth Dowdeswell spoke with the latter in calling Dr Bondar a ‘renaissance person’.

Her high school math teacher John Fleming, STS-42 Discovery mission commander Colonel Ronald Grabe, journalist Peter Mansbridge, singer Anne Murray mentioned that Dr. Bondar asked her at the time to compile a music tape she could enjoy in space. Singer Susan Aglukark, filmmaker Deepa Mehta and others spoke with glowing words of Dr Bondar.

Mark Tewksbury was the emcee for the evening and presented questions from the gathering to Dr Bondar. Mr. Tewksbury spoke of his sense of humor, his humility and his philanthropy. One question posed was what advice she would give to graduate students considering applying to become astronauts. She suggested that diversity in learning and training would be helpful and that the pursuit of science is important because “space is a big frontier”. She mentioned the James Webb Space Telescope.

Dr. Roberta Bondar is a national treasure with seven degrees, 28 honorary degrees and numerous awards including Companion of the Order of Canada, Order of Ontario, Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, Hall of fame of the International Women’s Forum and she was Chancellor at Trent University for six years.

She has written eight books and has even been featured on the Letterkenny TV show three times. She has five schools named after her and 20 honors including a stamp, a coin and a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. She is truly a role model for young girls and boys. She is tenacious, professional and as a doctor, her goal has been to help people.

It was a privilege and a pleasure for me to attend the launch of Dr Bondar’s flight, to entertain her during her visit to our community in 1992, and then to visit her virtually in 2022.

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