Thirsk is from New Westminster, British Columbia and is married to Brenda Biasutti of Montreal, Quebec. They have three children. He enjoys spending time with his family as well as flying, hockey, squash, and playing the piano.
He attended primary and secondary schools in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba and received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Calgary in 1976, a master of science degree in mechanical engineering from MIT in 1978, an M.D. from McGill University in 1982, and his M.B.A. from the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1998 as a Sloan Fellow.
He is a member of the Professional Engineers of Ontario, the Canadian College of Family Physicians, the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute, the Aerospace Medical Association, and the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario and of British Columbia. He is also a director of the Canadian Foundation for the International Space University.
He won the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta Gold Medal in 1976 and was the first recipient of the University of Calgary Distinguished Alumni Award (1985). In 1997, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Professional Engineers of Ontario and was awarded honorary membership in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia.
He served as Chief Astronaut of the Canadian Space Agency in 1993 and 1994. In February 1994, he was crew commander for the CAPSULS mission, a simulated 7-day space mission that involved the participation of several international investigators and three other Canadian astronauts. In 1994-95, Thirsk completed a sabbatical year in Victoria, British Columbia. During this year, he upgraded his skills in clinical practice, space medicine research and Russian language training.
On June 20, 1996, Thirsk flew aboard space shuttle mission STS-78 (the life and microgravity Spacelab mission) as a payload specialist. During this 17-day flight aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, he and his six crew mates performed 43 experiments devoted to the study of life and materials science. Most of these experiments were conducted within the pressurized Spacelab laboratory module situated in the orbiter’s payload bay. The life science experiments investigated changes in plants, animals and humans under spaceflight conditions. The materials science experiments examined protein crystallization, fluid dynamics and high-temperature solidification of multi-phase materials in microgravity.
While on STS-78, Thirsk wrote two columns for the Calgary Sun newspaper. This was the first occasion in which an astronaut wrote and filed a story to a newspaper—and had it published—while the astronaut was still in orbit.
In 1998, Thirsk was assigned by the Canadian Space Agency to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to pursue mission specialist training. This training program involves advanced instruction on both shuttle and space station systems, EVA (spacewalking), robotic operations, and Russian language. Within the NASA Astronaut Office, Dr. Thirsk served as a CapCom (capsule communicator) for the International Space Station (ISS) program. CapComs participate in actual and simulated space missions as a communication link between the ground team at Mission Control and the astronauts in orbit. CapComs speak directly with the space station crew, and assist with technical planning for the mission and last-minute troubleshooting.
In 2004, Thirsk trained at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre near Moscow and became certified as a Flight Engineer for the Soyuz spacecraft. He served as backup Flight Engineer to European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Roberto Vittori for the Soyuz TMA-6 taxi mission to the ISS in April 2005. During the ten-day mission, Thirsk worked as Crew Interface Coordinator (European CapCom) at the Columbus Control Centre in Germany.
Currently, Thirsk is assigned to a long duration mission onboard the International Space Station. He will launch as a Mission Specialist on the Soyuz TMA-15 Soyuz mission scheduled for May 2009. He will be the first Canadian astronaut to fly on a Soyuz. He will serve as Flight Engineer 2 for Expedition 19. He is scheduled to return to Earth on STS-129.
CORRECTION FROM SOURCE/CSA: Canadian Astronauts Julie Payette and Robert Thirsk to Go on Space Missions in 2009 ; A correction from source is being issued with respect to the release sent out today at 12h10 PM EDT. In the third paragraph, it should have read "Space Shuttle's six astronauts" instead of "Space Station's six astronauts". The corrected version follows. Editors Note: A photo for this release will be available on the CP picture wire via Marketwire.
Feb 11, 2008; MONTREAL, QUEBECMarketwire - Feb. 11, 2008) - The Honourable Jim Prentice, Minister of Industry and Minister responsible for the...