Roberta Bondar speaks to students

Roberta Bondar speaks to students McGill University

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McGill Reporter
October 24, 2002 - Volume 35 Number 04
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 35: 2002-2003 > October 24, 2002 > Roberta Bondar speaks to students

Canada's first woman in space was at McGill last week. Roberta Bondar, a neurologist and scientist by training, was invited by the University's Science Undergraduate Society to inspire students to follow her lead and tackle science careers themselves.

Bondar, who traveled aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1992, spoke at Pollack Hall, Oct. 6. She talked about her life's work, which includes photography and piloting, and stressed the importance of learning.

"Opportunities for the future are available for those that have a broad base of knowledge, are flexible, and are able to maintain their interests throughout their entire life," she said.

During her talk, Bondar repeatedly challenged her audience. "Keep moving forward, be creative and get something done with your life while you can," she said, encouraging science students to take an interest in the arts and arts students to take an interest in science.

Speaking very passionately, she said, "We have to keep putting education as a priority; use your opportunity to instill a love of learning."

Recalling her own educational journey, she jokingly said she'd spent 18 years in university, getting her hands on every degree possible so that NASA could not refuse her. Today she holds an honorary doctorate from McGill and other universities, the NASA Space Medal, is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a Laureate of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, has a photography exhibit on a national tour, and her new book, Canada: Landscape of Dreams, will be released next week.

About NASA, Bondar said that the benefits of its space program are tremendous. "Not just in what they've done but in their potential," she said. "Going somewhere you've never been before creates new problems that need to be solved. The space program opens people's minds to the world and it provides a new opportunity for vision. We look to space to try and solve some of our earthly problems and through which, insights into ourselves are achieved."

Referring to the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Bondar said all that was visible was a tiny plume of smoke rising from Manhattan island. "But on Earth we know that those events affected our entire social construct," she stressed.

She told her audience that they have not just an opportunity, but a responsibility, to make the world a better place. "Plants die or mutate; we need to recognize our fragility and use technology to adapt to change," she said.

Citing NASA's own ability to change after catastrophes like the 1986 Challenger crash, she said, "More than 200 changes were made after the Challenger tragedy, but that's the only way to move forward. The shuttle's re-launch was the idea of the future."

Bondar cautioned that success is achieved through balance -- advancing science and technology while maintaining human contact. "There's no magic silver bullet, [rather] it's a perspective of life: to be stimulated your entire life. Opening your mind is the reason for going; it provides the reason for changing your vision that brings you to where you are."

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