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Alumni Profile

Robert Thirsk

Robert Thirsk, SF ’98

Astronaut, Canadian Space Agency

  • Spent 204 days and 18 hours in outer space
  • Was a member of the first crew to represent all five space agencies that built the International Space Station: Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia, and the United States
  • Coaches high school ice hockey

Robert Thirsk was practicing rural medicine in New Brunswick when he heard that Canada was beginning a search for its first astronauts. He applied the next day. Two missions into outer space later, he now plans to use his MIT Sloan education to guide humankind’s next steps into the final frontier.

In 1983, following a rigorous selection process involving more than 4,000 candidates, Thirsk was named one of Canada’s six astronauts. After 12 years of training, he embarked on his first voyage to outer space. With a background in mechanical engineering and medicine, his main objective was to research the effects of weightlessness on the body’s various organs.

“Every organ system in the body undergoes changes during spaceflight,” he explains. “In weightlessness, the cardiovascular system becomes weaker, bones demineralize, and muscles lose strength and mass. There are health risks associated with long-term exposure to ionizing radiation, and the isolated and confined environment aboard a spacecraft can impact the crew’s psychological well-being and productivity.”

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