Windsor doctor, Chatham native two of 17 finalists for Canadian astronaut job

Mugoli Samba, Windsor Star 

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An aerospace engineer from Chatham and a Windsor doctor who lives in Tecumseh have been shortlisted for Canada’s elite team of astronauts. 

The Canadian Space Agency released its list of the 17 men and women shortlisted from a list of 72 drawn in February from the 3,772 who had applied for the two available positions on Monday at a Toronto news conference. 

Adam Sirek, a Toronto-born family physician who works in Windsor and is on staff at Leamington District Memorial Hospital, is one of the lucky candidates, as is Erik Kroeker, a Chatham native and aerospace engineer. 

“I have always loved both aviation and medicine,” Sirek said in his astronaut candidate profile, adding that he learned to fly at age 16.

“Being involved in cutting-edge research in space, and then helping to translate its application to terrestrial domains, is an exciting thing for me.”

Sirek is also on faculty at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and is a reservist in the Canadian Armed Forces supporting the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. 

Kroeker is an aerospace engineer and current lecturer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Kroeker said in a telephone interview. “It’s truly an amazing honour to be this far through the process, especially when you look at the other candidates. To be counted among them is an absolute thrill.

“I’m excited about this process, I’m really honoured to be a part of it, and I’m hoping I get the job. But at the same time, I’m also just really excited that Canada gets two new astronauts no matter what,” he added.

Kroeker says he always knew he wanted to become an astronaut. As a young boy growing up in Southwestern Ontario, he dreamt of exploring the unknown while closely following the career of his early role model in astronaut Roberta Bondar. 

He later moved to the United States to pursue his post-secondary education. He has an bachelor’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University, and a masters and PhD in aerospace engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“As time went on, I realized that what I really loved was talking about science, educating about science, sharing all of these amazing discoveries with people,” he said. “It’s not that I really changed why I wanted to be an astronaut, but it kind of evolved over time.”

A greater part of his professional career has been spent as an educator, which he feels gives him a competitive edge for the position, considering the fact that educating is an “absolutely critical role of being an astronaut.”

“Your job’s not just going up and doing these missions, but engaging the public and teaching people about space, science and technology, and all of the amazing things Canada is doing in those fields,” he said.

Making it to the final round is no easy task. Astronauts need strong academic backgrounds in relevant fields, operational skills, people skills and exceptional physical shape to be considered, astronaut Jeremy Hansen said in the Facebook live-stream. 

“We put them in scenarios where they are fighting fires, battling a sinking ship, escaping out of a capsule that’s landed in high seas. They have to work as a team, they have to show leadership,” Hansen said.

“But most of all, they have to show us that they can work calmly under pressure,” he added.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Singh Bains expressed his excitement for the two potential new recruits.

“The sky is not the limit when it comes to astronauts,” Bains said.

Sirek, Kroeker and their 15 colleagues will go through a final series of interviews and intensive medical exams, the Canadian Space Agency website says.

“I don’t really have too many details on what’s coming next,” said Kroeker. “In a lot of ways, this is just as much a surprise at each step for me as it is for the public.”

The two successful candidates will be named sometime in June.

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