How do you interact with Hadfield?
I am part of Chris’ medical support team. Specifically, I am co-op student with the Operational Space Medicine team of the Astronauts, Life Sciences, and Space Medicine directorate at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) which is under Space Exploration. My supervisor, Leena Tomi, is responsible for what we call Human Behaviour and Performance Support for this mission. This includes family support, behavioural medicine support, and in-flight support.
My main role is to help provide in-flight support. In-flight support is aimed at keeping the astronaut connected with his or her friends and family as well as with his or her home country and culture throughout long-duration missions. It’s also aimed at assisting the astronaut with his or her activities during his or her free time in space. In-flight support measures include setting up and maintaining (providing content for) a personal webpage for the crewmember, coordinating crew care packages sent to the astronaut with unmanned cargo ships, organizing private phone and video conferences with people the astronaut wishes to speak with in his or her free time (e.g. with Canadian cultural figures, coworkers, etc.).
Most of my time is allocated to maintaining the crew webpage and it involves obtaining and up-linking to Chris’ webpage (via NASA) news, TV, music, podcasts, movies, etc. I also assist with some family support activities such as video conferences between Chris and his family, mission related events involving family, friends and coworkers (e.g. launch viewing event at the CSA).
I met Chris in person only once when he visited Canada in the fall. He took the time to have a meal with everyone supporting the mission, including the newcomers like myself. Previous to that, I’d emailed him (mostly cc’d) and made PowerPoint presentations for his pre-flight briefings but didn’t have a chance to speak with him. When I do interact with him while he’s on the ISS, it’s via email for work-related purposes, such as for changes to his webpage, but most of the time, it’s a one-way communication of providing content to him via his webpage.
Type of support provided?
As mentioned above, I provide content to Chris’ private webpage. The webpage is structured based on Chris’ preferences and its contents are determined by these preferences and his requests. Crewmembers have a limited amount that can be uplinked each week so I have to prioritize the items to uplink and often edit or compress the material. We manage these uplinks with our close collaborators at NASA. I also track and sometimes help fill his crew care packages. However, crew care packages are mainly the crewmember’s family’s responsibility to pack. For example, for Chris, we’ve helped obtain Canadian food products for him to share with his crew. Chris has given us a list of names and groups that he’d like private videoconferences with and we contact these people and organize videoconferences with personnel at Mission Control in Houston.
Beyond the website and care packages, how else does your team work to foster crew cohesion and battle the physical and mental challenges of space?
For crew cohesion, as mentioned above, we provide Canadian foods to Chris so he can share Canadian culture in space through them. When choosing them, we have to find products with shelf lives that last until the end of the mission. Because these foods fly in unmanned cargo ships usually months before the mission launch, their shelf lives are often of 18 months or if they’re sent during the mission, a shelf life of about 6 months. From reports from past astronauts, we know that meal time is crew bonding time. Also, we provide astronauts films or shows that they can watch as a group.
To keep astronauts connected with Earth, we provide a webpage with news, music, podcasts, TV, and movies, so astronauts can stay connected to Earth and be informed of new updates. To lessen the gap between astronauts and their friends and family and culture, we connect them through videoconferences. These videoconferences are kept private so they stay relaxing for the astronaut.
We provide onboard resources, too. As you’ve likely heard, there’s a Vancouver brand guitar onboard the ISS. Our team makes sure there are onboard recreational resources for crewmembers to continue their earth hobbies in space. Besides instruments, we also send up technical equipment for recording and make sure their electronics have the software they need. These stay up on the ISS for the next musically-inclined astronauts. The crew gets to share them and pass them onto crews after them…kind of like heirlooms but in space and with quicker turnovers.
Is there a personal story here: were you interested in space, science fiction or psychology from a young age? Does it connect to a particular moment from your upbringing?
Behind every dream is a story, right? When I was in first grade, my teacher was teaching us the space unit and told our class about Roberta Bondar. He told us about the other astronauts too but Dr. Bondar was the first Canadian woman in space, and as a young, Canadian girl, I had the most in common with her so her story struck me the most. For me, she’s always symbolized how women can achieve anything, so she’s a personal hero of mine. Space has always fascinated me. I used to clip newspaper and magazine articles about space. It’s funny. I was looking for something in the basement of my Vancouver home last year and I found a napkin that I’d taken notes on about a star. I’d stashed it in a box along with an article from the Vancouver Sun. This was back before pictures and articles online were so accessible (kids today are so lucky!).
My psychology story is a different one. I saw a psychologist for awhile when I was younger and I was amazed that there was someone whose job was to make me happy. I wanted to be that person for other kids when I grew up so when I got into UBC, I took a psych course and knew it was right for me. You know how some people have classes they don’t enjoy? I’ve enjoyed every psychology class I’ve ever taken. Maybe it’s because we study memory and learning in psychology but I’ve always felt that my professors are really committed to helping me learn. When I took PSYC100, the class had over 100 people, but my professor took the time to remember my name.
What are the coolest/fun aspects of the job, and what are the most rewarding aspects?
The coolest thing is getting to touch something that gets sent into space and second to that is getting emails from space. Also, I get to contact high-profile figures or their teams when I set up videoconferences and I’m often a fan of whoever Chris chooses so getting their responses is exciting. Thank you, UBC Arts Co-op and CSA for these opportunities! The most rewarding aspect is receiving positive feedback from either event attendees or Chris himself. Knowing that I’m doing something that makes someone else’s life a little happier or little easier is very fulfilling.
How has the experience changed you as a person – and altered how you view your major, your university experience, and your future aspirations?
The biggest change has been moving out and gaining independence. When I moved to the east the first time, I had no network, but I quickly learned to be comfortable approaching new people and learning the new city’s sites and roads. In the office, I went from an email and text-only person to cold calling people. I’ve learned that I can be comfortable with many things but I have to take the first step. I often sport my “I am UBC” shirt which has the motto on its sleeve. It’s a great reminder that I have to take charge of my own life because the opportunities are available but it’s up to me to make them mine.
Chris was committed to becoming an astronaut even when no Canadian space program existed. Whenever I think of this, I tell myself that it’s okay if the job conditions or whatever aren’t ideal right now. We don’t know how the future’s going to turn out. Although I’ve been set on psychology for a long time, I’d never considered psychology in the space environment before because I wasn’t aware space psychology existed. Roberta Bondar was the first Canadian woman in space. Chris Hadfield has become the first Canadian Commander of the International Space Station. Who’s to say I won’t become the first Asian-Canadian space psychologist?
I’ve always viewed psychology as important on earth but its applications and value in space makes me appreciate what I’m learning in class a lot more. A lot of my other co-op friends have told me that they do better in school after their work terms, if they’re relevant to their majors or minors, because their studies become more meaningful for them. I feel it’s important to use what you learn in the classroom in real life or at least observe other people using it in their everyday work. In my case, psychology, specifically my stats and social psychology classes, have helped me understand my day-to-day life a lot more. Before my first term at CSA, I’d taken a brain and behaviour class, was fascinated and convinced that was what I wanted to study for the rest of my life. (Leena had me work on a project for the Mars 500 crew (Mars 500 was an isolation experiment done with a 6 person crew. For 520 days, they were isolated in a chamber that simulated space conditions.). The crew used a new neurocognitive training and assessment tool that they might use in space one day. By the end of the term, I was sure I wanted to switch into a science stream of psychology and focus on the brain.) I went back to UBC for a term and took more courses, including a social psychology class. I became convinced that I wanted to research and study social psychology. Taking the course was informative and reading the textbook was more leisurely than difficult. (Leena’s had me work on researching crew cohesion on the space station since I came into this work term interested in social psychology.) In the summer, I volunteered at a lab (before departing to Montreal for co-op) and it perfectly put my psychology and commerce studies together. It was for organizational behaviour. They ran studies on companies that wanted to implement interventions and made recommendations.
I’ve been at CSA since August and after having talked to people already working in the industry (co-op recommends we hold informational interviews to gage whether we’d actually want the jobs we think we want), I realize that I love being a part of something as large scale as a space mission but also that I need a job that challenges me every day, is fast-paced, and does not require sitting down all day. Social psychology is still very much what I’m interested in, and thank goodness this has not changed, but for the moment while I’m interested in studying relationships in space, I hold the greater aspiration of studying the behavioural issues that can occur up there and becoming a space psychologist. Constantly being surrounded by space news here and knowing how fast technology is advancing and how hard everyone is working to get humans to Mars, I believe that in my lifetime, we’ll have more space tourists and people will grow their appreciation for psychological support in space.
I think my university experience has been enriched by co-op. I’m developing these transferable skills (better communication, interpersonal, and technical skills) in the office and I’m also learning about how the government works and get to observe and be part of these inter-department meetings.
How have friends and family reacted to your cool job? What do colleagues make of you as the only student working on the mission?
A lot of my westcoast friends that didn’t know CSA offered internships get really excited and start asking questions. A typical conversation goes, “Wow, that’s so cool. They let students work there? How’d you find out about it?” They had this idea that only engineers and scientists work here, but I’ve met arts majors here, too. It takes many skill sets and different knowledge (e.g. psychology, policy, communications) to support a mission!
My family is proud of me. They follow news on CSA and Chris very closely now and at times email me articles about him. It’s nice that they’re taking such a huge interest in what I do. It’s a great conversation starter at family dinners.
I hadn’t thought of myself as the only student working on the mission because throughout my work terms (I’m on my 3rd co-op term and I did a summer term through FSWEP), I’ve met students that worked on the nutrition, exercise, and radiation components in the pre-flight stage of the mission. As the only student currently working for the in-flight phase of the mission, I truly hope students in the future get this valuable and unique opportunity to be involved in a mission. My colleagues treat me as a part of the team and they trust me with information and responsibilities. When I first met them at a round-table introduction, I was both impressed and intimidated by all their degrees and accomplishments, but I’ve found that even though they’re very smart and very dedicated workers, they also have a great sense of humour. There’s wonderful camaderie in the office! What’s more, I’m lucky to have Leena as my supervisor because she’s really approachable and willing to help me improve my knowledge base and skills.
How many hours do you work per day, and what do you like to do in your spare time?
I work full-time, so I’m in the office 40 hours a week—great prep for the post-grad world. I used to work in retail and volunteer with kids a lot, so the office environment is refreshing. The best part of the job is that every day, there’s something new to do and I get to contact interesting people. Outside of the office, I play tourist and spend my weekends exploring Montreal and nearby cities. I’ve been to the Chocolate festival, the Montreal en Lumière festival, gone to outdoor concerts, winter carnivals in Montreal and Quebec city, visited most of the museums…and the list goes on! I’m definitely taking advantage of the east’s cultural events. CSA is actually located in a suburb of Montreal but I opted to live on the island, so for the 2 hour commute everyday to and from the CSA headquarters, I read books and newspapers. One of the first things I did when I arrived in the city was apply for a library card and it’s really paid off. Making the decision to take a co-op position out of province is one of the best I’ve made and I encourage any hesitant new co-op students to go beyond their comfort zone and travel to their next position.
Are you applying any of what you learn on the job re. psychology or teamwork to your personal life?
Yes, of course. I’ve learned about the training the astronauts get so I’ve been looking into how they learn about communicating, leadership, etc. If it’s good enough for space, it’s good enough for me!
What’s your age, hometown, high school, year of study, projected graduation and plans after that?
21, Vancouver, Killarney Secondary (thank you for the French classes, Mme Hawes, Mme Zallen and M Hale!), completed 3rd year, 4th year standing. Graduating in 2014. Hopefully get into grad school for psychology. I’m doing a minor in commerce and volunteered in a lab for organizational behaviour for a bit. When I return to UBC in the fall, I hope to volunteer some more and have some more hands-on learning.
Any previous experiences that prepared you for this job?
Like UBC Arts Co-op tells us, we come away from every experience learning a new skill or with new insight, but it’s up to us to figure out how we can apply it. Retail – dealing with different and unpredictable personalities, meeting new people and turning first time customers into regulars (kind of like meeting other students here and becoming friends), low supervision/independent work (my supervisor’s work requires travel to Russian and the US). Food industry- working in a fast-paced environment and dealing with time pressure (constant changes). High school clubs such as student government – organization and time management (much needed when balancing several tasks at once and having different deadlines for them all). UBC – time management & staying motivated. ACSA – networking.
An alumna that I met through the Arts Co-op Students’ association Mentorship program when I first entered co-op was the biggest help preparing me for this internship. She told me about the position even before I knew that CSA offered internships, gave me an amazing, thorough overview of the position (she worked at CSA during the pre-flight phase of Dr. Thirsk’s mission) and gave me interview advice. Shout out to Jeanie Lai! I think this really illustrates the power of UBC alumni and networking—we can end up participating in a space mission.
I credit Jeanie to helping me prepare for the job so in my second year in co-op, I became a Co-chair of the ACSA Mentorship Program.
What are the mental, emotional and physical challenges facing astronauts – and why is it important to address these?
The mental challenges are dealing with the isolation, small space confinement, and distance from friends, family and culture. Another challenge is the lack of privacy which stems from the small space confinement. The physical challenges are the physiological changes occurring because of microgravity, such as bone and muscle loss. Other challenges are the danger of space debris and exposure to the higher than usual radiation levels. For bone and muscle loss, CSA has a program by Natalie Hirsch to counteract these physiological effects in space. She’s had students help her with the exercise and food nutrition aspects of the program. Finally, there’s a hectic work pace onboard so the ground monitors the crew’s sleep and ensures they have enough.
The challenges could disrupt crew cohesion or work performance or worse, behavioural health problems could develop while in space. Luckily, in their selection and training, their behavioural health is carefully monitored.
How big is the team supporting Chris. How many people are working to support the entire ship crew?
For HBP support, we have 3 people at CSA and 3 people who work with us from Wyle (NASA contractor). The full medical support team at CSA consists of 5 people and we collaborate closely with our colleagues from NASA. If you look at all the people who support the different aspects of space flight for the crew, there are probably hundreds.
What are the main goals of the mission?
- Carry out scientific experiments
- Operate Canadarm2 and perform robotics tasks
The Canadian Space Agency is committed to leading the development and application of space knowledge for the benefit of Canadians and humanity.