Robert Thirsk

Astronaut and Cosmonaut


Thirsk Sokol E20 21 crop

Robert Thirsk is a Canadian engi­neer and physi­cian, and a Canadian Space Agency astronaut. 

Robert Thirsk was born on August 17, 1953 in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. He received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Calgary, a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a Doctorate of Medicine from McGill University, and a Master of Business Administration from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Robert was select­ed in 1983 to the Canadian astro­naut corps and began train­ing in 1984. He has been involved in var­i­ous Canadian Space Agency (CSA) projects includ­ing par­a­bol­ic flight cam­paigns, car­dio­vas­cu­lar research and mis­sion simulations.

In 1996, Robert Thirsk flew as a pay­load spe­cial­ist aboard space shut­tle mis­sion STS-78, the Life and Microgravity Spacelab mis­sion. During this 17-day flight aboard Columbia, he and his six crew­mates per­formed 43 inter­na­tion­al exper­i­ments devot­ed to the study of life and mate­ri­als sciences.

In 2004, he trained at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre near Moscow and became cer­ti­fied as a flight engi­neer for the Soyuz space­craft. For many years in the mid-2000s, Robert served as Capcom at the Mission Control Center in Houston and as Eurocom at the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany in sup­port of International Space Station (ISS) crew activities.

In 2009, Robert Thirsk became the first Canadian to fly on a long-dura­tion expe­di­tion. Roman Romanenko of Russia, Frank De Winne of Belgium and Robert launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz space­craft to the ISS. Following dock­ing with the Station, Robert and his ISS Expedition 20 and 21 crew­mates per­formed an unprece­dent­ed amount of mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary research, robot­ic oper­a­tions, main­te­nance and repair work of Station sys­tems and payloads.

Robert Thirsk resigned as astro­naut from the CSA in 2012 to join the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in Ottawa. In 2014, he retired from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and went on to serve as Chancellor of the University of Calgary from 2014 to 2018. Robert remains engaged in Canadian space ini­tia­tives and pub­lic out­reach. He served as chairs of two high-lev­el task forces for the CSA: the Expert Group (20172018) and the Advisory Council (20192021) on Deep Space Healthcare. He is a proud mem­ber of the Orders of Canada and of British Columbia.