In a world where there are still so few female role models in the world of science and engineering, Julie Payette stands out.
After having completed her degree in Computer Engineering from McGill, Payette — a Montreal native — worked for IBM both in Montreal and Switzerland. In 1992, she was chosen by the Canadian Space Agency as one of four astronaut candidates from a field of 5,330 applicants. Having completed intensive training, she reported to NASA in 1996; and in 1999, became the second Canadian woman in space, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. On the 4 million mile journey, Payette served as a mission specialist, becoming the first Canadian to board the International Space Station, and the first Canadian to operate its robotic arm.
"[The space station] is the most challenging engineering project in the history of mankind,” she says. “Trying to build a station in outer space is comparable to trying to build a ship in the ocean, during a storm, with nine countries helping out."
She later became Chief Astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency, a position she held for seven years. In 2009, Payette visited the Space Station again as mission specialist and flight engineer aboard The Endeavour.
Among a myriad of awards and honours, Payette was granted an honorary degree from McGill in 2003, is a Knight of the National Order of Quebec, and has received the Gold Medal Award, Engineers Canada’s highest distinction. She speaks six languages, is an accomplished musician (Payette has sung with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra Chamber Choir), is a certified deep-sea scuba diver, and holds a commercial pilot’s license, having logged 1,300 hours of flight time.