In a ground-breaking announcement from Longueuil, QC, on November 22, 2023, the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister responsible for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), unveiled two pivotal assignments for CSA astronauts, propelling Canada’s influence in the realm of space exploration.

Jenni Gibbons and Joshua Kutryk, both recruited as CSA astronauts in 2017, are set to play integral roles in shaping the future of lunar exploration and advancing scientific discovery aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Since the early 1980s, Canada’s astronauts have been at the forefront of science and technology, inspiring Canadians with their contributions. Nine exceptional CSA astronauts have collectively undertaken 17 space missions, solidifying Canada’s standing as a key player in space exploration.

The eagerly anticipated Artemis II mission, currently scheduled for launch no earlier than November 2024 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, marks the first crewed mission to the lunar vicinity since 1972. This approximately 10-day mission aims to rigorously test the systems of the Orion spacecraft, specifically adapted to cater to the needs of a crew on board. In the event that Jeremy Hansen cannot participate, Jenni Gibbons is poised to represent Canada on this historic lunar mission. Backup astronauts, like Gibbons, undergo training mirroring that of the prime crew, ensuring seamless transitions into their roles with minimal notice.

Jenni Gibbons, Canadian Space Agency astronaut, had this to say: “It is an honour to fill this role for my agency and my country to make the most of the opportunity afforded to us by our contributions to the international effort of lunar discovery. Space is for everyone: as Canadians, we recognize its essential nature in our day-to-day life, economic well-being, and commitment to technological advancement. As a part of the Artemis II backup crew, I will work to define and develop the procedures and architecture required for humanity’s return to the Moon. I will be a crew test subject for critical operations from launch to splashdown and recovery. I will train as a capsule communicator, ready to act as the link between the ground team and the Artemis missions when in Mission Control. I will train alongside the crew and will be ready to support them in whatever capacity their mission requires. Finally, I will be prepared for future missions critical to Canada’s space program. I look forward to bringing Canada with me on this journey.”

Lunar exploration received a significant boost in March 2023, with a federal budget announcement of $1.43 billion dedicated to advancing lunar exploration initiatives. This includes a substantial investment of $1.2 billion over 13 years for the development and contribution of a lunar utility vehicle, aiding astronauts in their lunar activities, and $76.5 million over 8 years to support Canadian science and technology demonstrations on the Lunar Gateway.

Meanwhile, Joshua Kutryk is gearing up for his maiden mission aboard Starliner-1, tentatively scheduled for launch no earlier than the beginning of 2025. Launching from the Kennedy Space Center, Starliner-1 marks the first operational mission for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. Kutryk, who has been actively collaborating with the Starliner team in Houston since 2021, will conduct Canadian and international science experiments and technology demonstrations during his six-month mission. Additionally, he has been selected as the capcom for the ascent and re-entry of the first crewed flight of the CST-100 Starliner vehicle.

“I am grateful to represent Canada on this mission. Space, for me, is about curiosity, adventure, innovation, and science. But it’s also about collaboration. Collaboration towards future opportunities. Space is about collaborating for a better future. It’s about our future; it’s about Canadian prosperity. Our country decided decades ago to invest in space because it helps us solve challenges for Canadians, and we are still driven by this purpose today. I’m committed to making the most out of this incredible opportunity for our country,” explained Joshua Kutryk, Canadian Space Agency astronaut.

Canada’s commitment to the ISS through 2030, formally confirmed in March 2023, underscores the nation’s dedication to space exploration. The ISS, a critical steppingstone for future exploration destinations, serves as a vital testbed for innovative technologies and cutting-edge experiments, aiding in the quest to understand how to live and work effectively in the vast expanse of space.

The recent assignments of Jenni Gibbons and Joshua Kutryk not only contribute to the preparation of CSA astronauts for challenging roles in space missions but also solidify Canada’s reputation as a sought-after partner in the global pursuit of space exploration. These developments are set to inspire and captivate the imagination of countless Canadians, fostering interest in STEM-related careers for generations to come.

“These assignments are clear proof of the impressive reputation our astronaut corps has. From the International Space Station to the Moon, Jenni Gibbons and Joshua Kutryk are about to write an exciting new chapter of Canada’s history in space. Since their recruitment, they have both distinguished themselves repeatedly through their work with NASA and the CSA. Canadian astronauts are modern-day explorers, making them tremendous role models for Canada’s future scientists, engineers, and explorers,” expressed the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry.