Dr. Robert Thirsk: Astronaut | Engineer | Physician | University Chancellor
About This Episode
Dr. Robert Thirsk isn’t ready to write his autobiography – yet. You would think someone who qualified first as a mechanical engineer then as a medical doctor and then became an astronaut and is now a university chancellor there would already be lots to put in at least one book. But Bob Thirsk, at 63, believes there’s lots more life to live. He describes himself, first and foremost, as an explorer. Quite simply he says there is lots more to explore before he writes his memoire.
It would be quite easy to imagine his broad and varied qualifications represent a “scattergun” approach to career planning. Nothing could be further from the truth. From the time he was in grade three – when an inspired teacher brought a radio into class and let the students listen to John Glenn as he orbited Earth – Bob knew there was just one career destination for him: space. All of his qualifications were a carefully organized curriculum to get him there. Ultimately, it was a stay to last for a combined total of 204 days in orbit.
Bob credits his father for inspiring him to dream “big hairy audacious dreams” and, equally, his mother for instilling him the organizational skills that enabled him to achieve them. He also credits countless others who he has been “blessed” to know and who have contributed to his efforts over the years. It’s modesty and it’s not false. He truly believes that without the support of his wife, parents, family and his ‘other’ family – those that have supported him along the way – none of what he has achieved would have been so.
In this wide-ranging, extensive, thoughtful interview Bob Thirsk talks about the ferocious determination, drive and patience it took to get to orbit, life once he got there and how it has transformed him, and what you do after you have just climbed one of life’s biggest professional mountains. While clearly a man of science, he also brings real humanity to the endeavour. He feels a strong sense of responsibility to relate his experiences to others so they too, can dream big and achieve those dreams. He believes that the platform on which those dreams is built is advanced education for which he is a powerful, persuasive and compelling advocate.
Having seen Earth from orbit, Bob talks with great eloquence about the beauty of the planet but also the challenges it faces: from climate change to whether Earth's “seven billion astronauts” can learn to get along. However, he is ultimately an optimist. He thinks human space travel can make us think more like global citizens and collectively we can address these problems and get beyond them. After that, we’re going to Mars, and onwards. His infectious passion is irresistible and makes you believe it’s all really going to happen.
As in his own life, Bob thinks we Earthlings should dream big dreams, do our best to achieve them, think about what’s next and then dream some more.
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