january 8, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 54  

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Astronaut regales Western crowd

By Maureen Finn
Gazette Staff

As a contribution to Western’s 125th anniversary celebrations, the faculty of engineering launched its Distinguished Lecture Series with Canadian astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason’s talk entitled “Space for Everyday: An Astronaut’s Reflections.”

In Aug. 1997, Tryggvason flew on a space shuttle to conduct scientific experiments and experience life in space.

“This was a tremendous opportunity, as it costs $20 million to be sent into space, and Bjarni managed to get paid for it,” said Franco Berruti, dean of the faculty of engineering.

Tryggvason described the launch to space as initially calm. “[Suddenly it feels like someone has] jumped on you and is shaking you — there is so much vibration, you’re pushed into your seat and breathing becomes laboured,” he said, adding there is then an immediate relief when the engines shut off. “[Then it’s] time to un-buckle and float around — it’s a pretty amazing feeling.” He noted that the shuttle travels at incredible speeds, up to 25,000 feet per second.

Tryggvason said he hoped his talk would give the audience a bigger picture of how space really fits into our daily lives. He explained that the media often portray the nicest pictures of Earth, while in reality there are many that reveal the harmful damage the planet has suffered.

“North America is the cleanest place on Earth, next is Europe and then Australia,” he said, noting several areas of the planet have undergone tremendous damage over the years and there needs to be a focus on its long-term well-being.

Tryggvason said Canada’s biggest contribution to space studies has been its Radarsat monitoring. These satellite images provide us with information about environmental impacts and agricultural and weather conditions.

He noted there were over 120 million fish taken from Earth’s waters in 1995. Radarsat helps track this type of damage to the environment. “It’s very important [to monitor this damage] because we are stressing our poor planet,” he said. “That is evident when you look at it from space.”

Members of the audience said they were excited and intrigued at the well-attended lecture. “This was one of the most spectacular presentations ever. The numbers and measurements he mentioned are incredible,” said Kevin Whittam, president of the Undergraduate Engineering Society.

Tryggvason also worked at Western’s Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel in the 1970s and was a lecturer in applied mathematics from 1980 to 1982.



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