Joshua Kutryk and fellow Canadian Jenni Sidey-Gibbons recently became the newest graduates of NASA’s astronaut training program, making them eligible for space missions to the International Space Station, the moon, and potentially to Mars.
On Jan. 10 Kutryk and Sidey-Gibbons became astronauts during a ceremony at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston. They, along with nine others, graduated into NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return humanity to the moon by 2024.
“It feels good [to graduate].” said Kutryk in a phone interview. “I’ve dreamed about human space flight since I was kid. I’m not there yet, there’s a lot of training still left to do, but this is certainly a good step. I feel happy today and I think I feel proud as well. Canada has a rich and very successful history in space flight and this is a continuation of that. I’m proud to represent the Canadian Space Agency, I’m proud to be from Canada, from Alberta and I’m really looking forward to what the future has to hold for us.”
Kutryk was born and raised in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. Prior to joining the Canadian Space Program he worked as a test pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force. As a lieutenant-colonel officer in the Air Force Kutryk was in charge of fighter jet evaluations and was responsible for conducting airborne evaluations of new technologies and systems on the CF-18. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and three separate master’s degrees in flight test engineering, defence studies, and space studies. In July, 2017, Kutryk was selected out of a pool of more than 5,000 candidates to take the gruelling two-year Astronaut Candidate Training Program at the Johnson Space Centre.
“It’s really awesome stuff what we get to do and what we get to learn,” said Kutryk. There’s a large variety to it, I don’t think any two days are necessarily the same.”
During the training program candidates were versed in all the skills necessary for space flight. Some of the topics covered in training included technical skills training in orbital mechanics, intensive instruction in International Space Station systems, simulated extravehicular activities (spacewalk training), robotics, physiological training, Russian language courses, and sea and wilderness survival training.
“The challenge is balancing all the different demands that are on your time,” explained Kutryk
While every aspect of training was challenging, Kutryk told The Record he found learning the Russian language to be one of the most difficult.
“A lot of the technical subject matter is challenging, but that kind of learning is something I’m familiar with and comfortable with. If I look at Russian, it’s kind of on the exact opposite end of the spectrum, and I found that to be very challenging, and I still do. I still work with a Russian tutor several times a week and will continue to do so for the next few years. That’s a skill thats very challenging to learn but well worth it I’d say.”
A large portion of modules and operations on the ISS are in either Russian or English, therefor all astronauts are required to know both languages.
Although Kutryk and Sidey-Gibbons have now completed the first portion of their formal training, they still have many more hours of training to do before they embark for the final frontier. The difference between their next few years of training and their previous years is that now as certified astronauts they have begun to work in technical astronaut positions at the Johnson Space Centre.
“For me right now I spend a lot of time to interface between the engineering teams on the ground and the crews that are in space,” explained Kutryk. “I spend a lot of time working in the mission control centres, i also spend a lot of time working with the teams that are developing and testing new technologies and procedures that are going to be executed in Huston space in the months and years ahead, which is kind of similar actually to some of the test work I did in my past profession but instead of talking about airplanes we’re talking about humans living in space.”
With the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the moon. The goal of the trip is to use innovative technologies to explore more the lunar surface than ever before, to access and utilize resources and establish sustainable exploration, and to learn as much as possible in preparation for sending astronauts to Mars. The Artemis program plans to land on the moon in 2024.