120. Robert Thirsk: From medicine to Mars – Insights from over 200 days in space

In this guest-hosted episode Clive Steeper from episode 1 talks to engineer, physician, and former astronaut Dr. Robert Thirsk about the preparation and training needed for astronauts to operate effectively on space missions, and how these skills are also relevant for leadership more generally.

Robert reflects on training for astronauts, non-technical skills in space missions, adapting back to life on Earth, providing healthcare on deep space missions, AI-enabled technologies for space exploration, and the benefits of the space programme for society.

About Dr. Robert Thirsk

Dr. Robert Thirsk was born and raised in western Canada. He received degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Calgary and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Bob also holds a Doctorate of Medicine from McGill University and a Master of Business Administration from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Bob has flown on two space missions as a member of the Canadian Space Agency’s astronaut corps. He first flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1996 with six international crewmates as part of the Life and Microgravity Spacelab Mission. His second flight in 2009 was a six-month expedition aboard the International Space Station. Bob and his five Station crew mates performed multidisciplinary research, robotic operations and maintenance of spacecraft systems and payloads.

Following his astronaut career, Bob served as a vice-president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and then as Chancellor of the University of Calgary. He remains in close contact with the Canadian Space Agency, his former employer, to pursue a leadership role for Canada in the delivery of remote health care to astronauts who will someday venture to deep space on daring missions of exploration. Bob is a strong promoter of an economy based upon exploration, innovation and collaboration. He encourages youth to build their dreams upon a foundation of advanced skills and lifelong learning.

Find out more about Dr Robert Thirsk via website | Twitter | LinkedIn

Clive Steeper

Guest host Clive Steeper

Time Stamps

[00:02:29] Growing up in the 1960s.
[00:04:58] Training as an astronaut career.
[00:10:17] Non-technical skills in space.
[00:13:31] Leadership and Ecosystems.
[00:19:13] Life beyond being an astronaut.
[00:20:45] Healthcare in deep space missions.
[00:25:34] Space program benefits society.
[00:30:30] Artists in space proposal.
[00:33:44] Space survival training insights.

Key Quotes

  • “I grew up in a magical time. I grew up in the 1960s.”
  • “Training is our currency of trade.”
  • “The difference between a good astronaut and a great astronaut is mastery of those non-technical skills.”
  • “Failure is not something to be hidden or backed away from. Astronauts embrace failure.”
  • “As the space age opens up and we have the opportunity to fly a more diverse group of people in space, we need to start flying communicators and artists.”
  • “I hope that my legacy will be that I brought great benefit to the world. I helped make the world a better place.”
  • “I think there’s always a responsibility to push society to not be risk adverse in our processes and in our undertakings and continue to take on audacious challenges.”

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Robert Thirsk Transcription

Sue: Hi listeners, we have another guest-hosted episode today, and we’re going right back to Series 1 and Episode 1, and I’m inviting back guest Clive Steeper, who also happens to be co-founder of this podcast, and he’s bringing us a wonderful guest today, Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk. And I can’t wait to find out what Clive and Robert will discuss around Robert’s experiences. He’s spent over 200 days on consecutive flights in space. That’s all the introduction I’m going to do today. But as always, you can read the transcription for this episode on our website. Just hop on over to accesstoinspiration.org. And I’m going to hand over to Clive now. Welcome, Clive.

Clive: Thank you very much, Sue, and a big welcome to Robert Thirsk, as Sue says, a Canadian astronaut who’s done over 200 days in space. I’ve promised Sue that Robert and I will not talk about motor racing, which is actually the passion that connected us, but apologies if it does creep into the occasional answer. So, Robert, if I could just start with an opening question. What did you do before you became an astronaut?

Robert: Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me to be part of this podcast. It’s a real privilege. Immediately prior to being selected as a Canadian astronaut back in 1984, I was working as a medical doctor. I was in a residency program in family medicine, which means that I had completed medical school. I was now in the hospitals and training and all those skills that are important in family medicine. But before then, before medical school and residency, I was in engineering. I did an undergraduate at the University of Calgary in mechanical engineering, followed by two years of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT.

So it was actually during my undergraduate years in mechanical engineering when a professor took me aside and said, you know, I see something different in you. What is it that you want to do for your career? So I explained to him that I had an interest in space flight and solving some of these problems that prevent people from exploring further into the solar system. He said, well, you probably should get a medical degree as well. He took me by surprise, but that’s what I did. I went and got the medical degree and it turned out well for me. Exactly what I ended up doing in my career is engineering and medicine combined so nicely.

Clive: And second part, what led you to want to become an astronaut?

Robert:  I grew up in a magical time. I grew up in the 1960s. And it was wonderful to be a child in that decade because society was moving quickly on so many fronts at the time, you know, civil rights, but in health care, I can remember the first heart transplant was done back in the mid 60s. science and technology and even culture and entertainment. You know, it was back then in the 60s when the Beatles did their Sgt. Pepper’s album, which changed the way that people produced music ever since. But also, the 1960s featured the space program. I was too young to remember the first person who flew in space. That was a Russian cosmonaut named Yuri Gagarin. But I do remember only eight years later, only eight years later, two people walked on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. And so the spirit of the space program and in particular the Apollo lunar missions fascinated me.

The Apollo astronauts became my heroes. They were venturing to someplace where no one had ever gone before, taking incredible risks. The drama was incredible. And then maybe Clive, the last thing I’ll say is the 1960s featured some pretty phenomenal leaders as well, world leaders, people who said we do things not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard. Anyways, all of this It influenced my young mind, and I wanted to be part of that program. I wanted to do the kinds of things that the Explorers and the New Frontier were doing. So the time and place that I grew up had a big influence on the direction that my educational path and my career went.

Clive: For me personally, hearing all of that is wonderful because I remember all of that and I do actually remember the first Russian as well. One of the things that I wondered, if you like, to what extent that whole inspiration, that source of energy, how that helped you through what I imagine is an awful lot of challenging training. So although you’ve had lots of educational learning, to go on an astronaut programme, from what I’ve seen in movies and TV programs, it is very intense and it’s very long. And I think of a lot of people who, if they hear the word training, will probably just, their head will hit the desk because, oh no, not that again. Whereas I imagine it’s different for astronauts. I wonder if you’d give us an insight into some of the key elements that you gain from that training.

Robert: Well, you’re absolutely right. Training is an absolute essential element of an astronaut career. In a sense, training is our currency of trade. Like auto racing, spaceflight is enormously difficult to conduct. The space environment is working against, it seems like everything about the space environment, ionizing radiation, the speeds that we’re flying at, the vacuum, the extremes of temperature, they’re all trying to kill astronauts. And then often in space, astronauts only have one chance to complete a task correctly because of the constraints of the orbital dynamics or the tight mission timeline or the speed of the vehicle.

We need to act correctly, fast and do it right the first time. So training is an important part. It takes years of training on the ground to be near perfect in space. The first couple of years of of candidacy for an astronaut involves something that we call basic training. In other words, what that means is that we bring in astronaut candidates from a variety of fields. Yes, we bring in military test pilots, but we also bring in scientists, we bring in engineers, we bring in medical doctors like myself. And those first two years of training brings all of us from our disparate backgrounds up to a common level of knowledge and skills. That takes a couple of years.

After that, we get on to advanced training. And what that means is that we’re learning some of the technical skills that are unique to being an astronaut. So I’m talking about EVA or spacewalking, robotic operations, rendezvous, docking. assembly work, maintenance and repair of station systems. And again, that takes several years of training. And then finally, on the wonderful day that you receive a phone call and are assigned to a mission, then you begin another phase of training, which we call mission-specific training. So we train specifically on those tasks, on those skills that will be unique to the mission that we’ve been appointed to fly. I guess to answer your question, I would say that I had fun throughout all my training. Training was almost as much fun as flying in space. And I think the reason for that is that it took me to my limits every week, not just mentally, but physically and emotionally as well. And that’s part of what I was trying to describe when I talked about the inspiration of the 1960s. We do things not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard, because they’ll measure the best of our energies and skills.

Clive: It’s wonderful hearing you speak about that because so often, you know, we can find situations where we need to do something and people sometimes are nervous or reluctant to get involved in heavy training. And I was just thinking as you were talking there of that infamous phrase, which I’ll probably slightly misquote, but Apollo 13, where failure is not an option. I was also drawn to a conversation I had with a musician who said something, and I wonder if this resonates in the context of this part of the conversation. This musician was a really highly regarded musician, and they say that they practice until they can’t make a mistake. So when they go onto the stage, they don’t have that level of worry. They don’t worry that they’re not going to do it. It’s just, will it actually be perfect if you like, but it was just that concept of practicing until failure is not going to happen. I just found that quite extraordinary.

Robert: Yeah. And I’m glad that you bring that out. And that’s certainly a part of the training as well. Again, sometimes we need to take actions in seconds. in order to save the mission, the vehicle, or ourselves. And so it has to be hardwired. The proper procedure has to be hardwired into us. And so we train not till we get it right, but until we can’t get it wrong.

Clive: And thinking there of being in space for over 200 days, and I know that was in two different missions, when you reflect back now, what were some of the non-technical skills that you needed to, when I say survive, but to exist up there? And I mean, I guess partly to use modern parlance from a well-being point of view, because some people being invited to be trapped in a sort of composite metal container, with all the risks that you outlined earlier, radiation and vacuum and temperature, etc. How do you cope with that without any doubts sort of creeping up into your brain?

Robert: Space mission is associated with a lot of psychosocial stressors. First of all, again, I’m talking about the environment, you know, the environment is risky. And so we’re always got this safety and risk flag in the back of our brain that adds a stress. We’re working with crewmates from a variety of cultures, nations, political ideologies, ways of problem solving. So that can be a stressor as well. And sometimes if you don’t manage these stressors well, isolation and confinement of the vehicle itself as you’re intimating, it can lead to malbehaviors. So I’m talking about lethargy, drop in productivity amongst the crew, poor follower-ship, poor leadership. Technical skills are important, but I would say at the end of my career now, on reflection back on my career, I’d say the non-technical skills are just as important.

And when I say non-technical skills, I’m talking about self-care, self-management, group living, teamwork, follower-ship, leadership, cross-cultural skills as well. And I would go so far to say that the difference between a good astronaut and a great astronaut is mastery of those non-technical skills. You know, all astronauts are smart. We can all learn how to perform UVAs, how to do robotics after years of training. But not everyone can acquire or exhibits the necessary non-technical skills, also known as soft skills. That’s a terrible name for them, by the way, because the soft skills are probably the hardest ones to acquire. Exactly. But those are the skills I think that when I reflect back on my career, you know, really made the difference in the success of crews.

Clive: And just sticking on that point, and this may be an unfair question, but when you lift that marvellous and unique experience that you’ve got. And I know you work with leaders and other education and government establishments these days. All of the listeners here, how can we learn the essence of what you’ve kind of outlined there when we put it into our own environments where we maybe don’t have the mission of going to space and all that goes with that? We might view our own world as being mundane, yet we do need much of the essence of what you’ve just described. How can we convey that to people?

Robert: You made reference to the Apollo 13 mission and I think that exhibited to the world some of the benefits of a space management approach to problem solving, to managing complex vehicles, to manage complex missions. I’ve been retired now as an active astronaut for 10-ish years now. But in my post-astronaut career, I continue to embody or bring in some of these astronaut skills or traits or lessons that I’ve learned. So, for example, safety as the top priority. I always bring that into, is my workforce safe? Are the consumers of our product or services going to be safe? The other thing that I’ve learned is the lessons that we can learn from failure. Failure is not something to be hidden or backed away from. Astronauts embrace failure.

When we, as a crew, make a mistake, we all rush in to try to find out where was the mistake made and how can we, as a team, improve the following time. Redundancy management, contingency planning. I’m not too proud of some of our world leaders and how they handled the COVID-19 crisis. And I sort of wonder if some of the kinds of training that astronauts do in preparation for flight, the simulations that we do incessantly over and over and over again, looking at all the unexpected kind of scenarios that we might encounter, if that would have improved the response from some of our leaders to the COVID-19 crisis and maybe saved a few lives. Handovers, you know, when I finish a task or finish a role or responsibility and someone comes in, another astronaut comes in to take over, I make sure that they receive a really good handover. So some of these things that I’ve just quickly mentioned, Clive, in addition to some of those soft skills, are things that I as a manager in my terrestrial life try to emphasise.

Maybe one last thing to say, I tend to look at everything as a set of ecosystems that interact. So a good example, of course, when I’m up on the space station, I’m looking out the window down at this beautiful earth that we live on. I see the natural ecosystems. So I see how the water environment interacts with the land, with the freshwater cycle, with the flora, with the fauna. Nothing happens on the planet without there being a ripple effect, somewhere else on the planet. So forest fires, for example, in British Columbia, the plume will rise up into the atmosphere and then be transported across to Europe and Africa and impact the quality of air that people are breathing over there. But, you know, there’s ecosystems that I see everywhere. Spacecrafts are ecosystems. Our human body is an ecosystem. You know, how can a tiny, tiny little group of cells in our pancreas, the islet cells that produce insulin, how can their failure manifest itself in so many organ systems in the body?

Clive: And without being flippant, I am assuming that when you’re doing that briefing to a fellow astronaut, it’s not via email?

Robert: No, it’s got to be face-to-face. In fact, one of the phenomena today that we’re seeing post-COVID is work from home. And that just doesn’t work for astronauts. Our skills, our hands-on, our interactions are face-to-face with crewmates so that we can debrief properly. We can convey not only the intellectual but also the emotional impact of our actions as well. So in the astronaut culture, work from home just would not work. We need to be there and interacting with our crew mates.

Clive: So Robert, when you now sort of come forward to today and the learning from everything that you’ve done in space and in leadership, what are some of the techniques that you use today that you see work from what you’ve learnt being an astronaut and all that training?

Robert: Well, I could give you hundreds of examples, but let me give you one example that impacts my work week today. Several years ago, when I was on board the International Space Station, about halfway through my six-month mission, a Belgian astronaut named Frank De Winne became the commander. And that evening, during his daily report down to the Mission Control Center, he went on and on and on about how I, earlier in the day, had done this wonderful job cleaning some fan filter. And I was overhearing what he was saying and I was getting embarrassed because this task that I did, cleaning a fan filter, is something that everyone is trained to do and something that I had done several times in the past before. So when his conference was over, I went up to Frank and I said, Frank, why are you going on and on about me cleaning some fan filter today? You’re actually embarrassing me. It’s kind of a minor task. And Frank turned to me and he said, Bob, I know that cleaning the fan filter is a pretty mundane task. We’re all trained to do it, and that you’ve done it before. But I think you’re a hell of an astronaut, and I wanted the world to know. These daily planning conferences go around the world. They’re public. So I was blown away.

It was just his way of showing appreciation for me, of recognising me, acknowledging me and the work that I was doing on board the station. I really learned a lesson there that day that we need to acknowledge other people and the good work, recognize the good work that they’re doing. So what I do now is in my outlook calendar and my week schedule every Friday afternoon, I take 30 minutes. and I write handwritten thank you notes to the people who earlier in the week had helped me with some of my tasks. Someone who made some travel arrangements for me or someone who dropped over a book for me to read. I send thank you notes to them because I think we unfortunately go through life and not really thank and recognise the people who are actually helping us to get our job done and helping us in our own personal well-being as well. So thank you notes, handwritten thank you notes are a big part of what I do every week now.

Clive: What a wonderful idea. I’ll try and do that. I’ll use it. That sounds really good. And just thinking again about after you’ve come back from one of these long missions, how do you adapt back to the life on Earth? Because A, you can’t look out the window and have quite that same vista. And B, there’s less risk walking onto the sidewalk perhaps than doing an EVA.

Robert: Well, it’s a good question because every day, I think back on my space experiences and I have a longing to go again. I don’t want to take the place of anyone who’s younger and more capable than me. But if you offer me a seat on a flight tomorrow, I would take it. I’ve really missed the experience. But seriously, I know where your question is coming from, because again, a lot of those Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon, when they came back from their missions, they had mental health issues. Not all of them, but a few of them. Buzz Aldrin is a really good example. He was kind of public with the depression that he went through when he came back. And it’s understandable that you would have a depression after walking on the moon. Like, what else can you do in life? That’s the ultimate achievement of humanity. Like, what are you going to do for the other 40 or 50 years of your life?

But fortunately, I never had that kind of a mental health issue, Clive. And I think the reason for that is that I do not define myself as an astronaut. I define myself as an explorer. And there are a number of frontiers in society that we can be exploring. Sure, space is one of them. But there’s other frontiers in science and healthcare and in technology and civil rights, inequality. So these are issues that engage me today. So I get engaged in some non-profit work in the areas of education and equality that provide some gratification to me and makes me feel that I’m still part of this process as well. So I think it’s important to define who you are as a person. I am a person I think a little bit unique because I have this sense of curiosity, exploration, creativity and I define myself as an explorer and there’s so many wonderful fronts out there where we need to push back the frontiers.

Clive: And touching on some of that work that you’re now doing, what are the current inspirations that are driving you with the things that you’re working on?

Robert: I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I’ve worked with top organizations, top people who elevated my level of performance. I fulfilled a childhood dream. And I’ve gone to places where few other people have ever gone before. So I want the same for the next generation as well. I look out in society today and I wonder if our young people have the same opportunities as I had. So there’s a couple things, Clive. One is that I continue to work with my former employer, the Canadian Space Agency as a contractor. We are looking forward to exploration of deep space, of the inner solar system. And one of my passions you’ve probably picked up is healthcare. One of the reasons, one of the barriers, one of the hurdles that prevents us from going to Mars today is delivery of healthcare over a distance.

So I am trying to look at the expertise, the capabilities that we have in Canada for delivering healthcare to remote locations, for example, the Canadian North, and seeing if we can translate some of that capability to spaceflight and enabling healthcare provision for future astronauts who will venture to the Moon, to a near-Earth asteroid, and hopefully in the next 15 or 20 years to Mars as well. And maybe one other thing I’ll mention to you is that I believe that education is the foundation of our dreams. The ideal job does not fall out of the sky into your lap. There’s always an education that you need to prepare the way so that the dream careers do come your way. So I do get involved in educational projects at the grade school as well as the post-secondary level to encourage STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math educational paths to the next generation and provide curriculum to the teachers and professors who would like to spark that flame of inspiration and curiosity in the next generation.

Clive: Ah, fascinating. And with what you were saying about going to Mars, it just makes me reflect, if I remember correctly, that if one is sitting here on Earth and sending a message to a ship that is heading towards Mars, it can take many hours for that message to get through. So when you’re talking of healthcare, if a person on that vessel was to have an issue, it’s not something you can have a quick fix for.

Robert: You’re exactly right. The first 60 years of human spaceflight have been largely located in low-Earth orbit within 400 kilometers of the surface of the Earth, with the exception of the Apollo missions in the late 60s and in the early 70s. When we consider going to deep space to explore the inner solar system in the coming decades, the nature of these missions will be totally different for operational reasons. The ultimate destination, at least in an astronaut’s mind, the dream destination is Mars. Mars on average is a million kilometers away from Earth. Typical transit time using conventional chemical rockets to get there would be six to eight months of transit time. By speed of light, in the worst case, it could take 20 minutes for communication, data, video, voice, to go from Earth to Mars.

So what that means is that if you, Clive, are on the surface of Mars, and you call me, the medical doctor at Mission Control on Earth, to report that your crew-mate, Sue, is having a cardiac arrhythmia, well, it’s going to take 20 minutes for me to hear your report. And then another 20 minutes for you to hear me say, get out the defibrillator. So obviously, the ground, Mission Control, is not going to be able to help the Mars crews with urgent situations. And therefore one of the ways we’re going to have to change the way we do mission operations in the future is for the crews to become more autonomous. So obviously we’ll be looking for AI enabled technologies, artificial intelligence enabled technologies that can help the crews with diagnosis and with treatments, with monitoring of not just physiological health, but also with the spacecraft systems and habitat systems as well. So the way that we do Mars missions is going to be quite a bit different than the way we’ve been doing low Earth orbit ones. There’s another level of complexity, another level of risk.

Sue: Robert, this sounds amazing. It all sounds very expensive. And I know that governments around the world are limited in budgets and think carefully about how they use their money. If you were giving an argument as to why it’s worth the investment, what would your response to that question be?

Robert: Well, I’ll talk about my country, Canada. We typically invest $350 million of taxpayer funds into the space program every year. But our space companies, not our aerospace companies, our space companies typically reap revenues of three, four billion dollars every year. Canada leads the world in areas such as robotics and telecommunications, earth observations and in those areas as well. So first of all, it’s a no brainer. There’s economic justification for doing that. Secondly, a lot of the research that we do in space pays off scientific dividends as well, healthcare dividends. My crewmates and I crystallized a protein in the human body. It’s a protein that’s found in the muscle fibers of young boys who suffer from an illness called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. And because we were able to do this in space, an inhibitor to that protein has now been in clinical trials and hopefully we will have someday, not a cure, but a treatment for a very nasty disease here on Earth.

We invest in the technologies for spaceflight, of course, but we can also spin them off to other uses as well. Canada contributed the robot arm to the Space Shuttle and also to the International Space Station. And a Canadian company and a Canadian university have spun off that technology to create a smaller, two meter long neurosurgical robot, which does the brain surgery on the patients to remove tumors from the brain, to correct arterial venous malformations. and to remove blockages associated with hydrocephalus. So that’s an example of how some of the technology we’re involved in can spin off to terrestrial applications as well.

And then maybe the last thing I’ll say is that in my mind some of the intangible benefits of the space program are just as important as the tangible ones like the examples I just gave and again, when I was young, I was inspired by the space program in the 60s. And without a doubt, my fascination with the space program influenced the direction that my educational path went. So I’m hoping that today, that the current endeavors that astronauts are doing and the exploration of deep space to the Moon and Mars will catch the attention of today’s generation of students and inspire them to consider STEM careers and also to consider doing things because they’re not easy because they’re they’re hard. So those just a few examples of why the space program does have a net benefit for society. Our first priority, of course, is to take care of this planet, be good stewards of planet Earth. But I think after that, I think we should think about exploring the inner solar system, because it’s part of our human curiosity, the sense of discovery, and because it will inspire the next generation to go further.

Sue: Well, I’m glad that you’re using the word inspiration there, Robert. It does seem like exploring space is giving people access to inspiration. And also, I think you’re highlighting the importance of storytelling. So not just the curiosity of exploring deep space, but those further scientific benefits that sometimes the wider population doesn’t get to know about quite as readily.

Robert: Yeah. Thank you.

Clive: Yeah, thanks, Sue, and I promised that we wouldn’t talk about motorsport. However, it is interesting that in both the world of space and in things like Formula One, there are a lot of advances in technology which feed their way back into society. And I sometimes struggle with why they don’t let everybody know where that came from. Because so many people probably don’t realize those type of things. There are examples I can give of similar things in Formula One and motorsport. Sometimes these extraordinary areas of our life, they keep their real successes, for me, the real successes, they keep them under a bushel. All they want to talk about is winning and losing, whereas actually there’s many other things. And just sort of dwelling on that point, you’ve given us a clue, I think, but I’d just like to sort of draw this to a close with asking what you hope your legacy will be as an explorer and with much of the work that you’re doing today with all sorts of different areas of life?

Robert: Yeah, I’ll be happy to answer that, but you made a really good point just before, Clive, and I really have to respond to that as well. I was listening to one of your earlier podcasts with J.D. Bartoe, an astronaut colleague, and as the interview was winding up, he made a really astute comment and he said that you know, as the space age opens up and we have the opportunity to fly more people, a more diverse group of people in space, we need to start flying communicators and artists. Most of us who have flown today, we’re the scientific, technical, medical, geeky kinds. And I do my best to try to communicate the wonder of spaceflight and the benefits of spaceflight.

But I hope that the day is coming when more people can get into space and that we can have the people who can best describe through words, through paintings, through other forms of artwork what the experience is all about and what the benefits are as well. So I agree with JD and others that we really need to make sure that we get artists in space as soon as possible.

Clive: I think that’s a brilliant idea, Robert. The thought of sending a poet, an artist, you know, two or three different musicians and some of the other arts up there and then seeing what they create and what they say when they came back. What a fabulous idea.

Robert: Can you imagine if Stevie Wonder flew in space with the piano, with the electronic keyboard? He won’t be able to appreciate the view out the window, but just the thrill of being in space or Adele or someone like that. a really good job of describing what it is.

Clive: I must admit, I was thinking Jimi Hendrix and then maybe he wouldn’t have needed the chemicals he did use.

Robert: Legacy. So I was privileged, as I mentioned, to fulfill a childhood dream to go where a few people had gone before to work with the best organizations and the best people in the world. And yet I hope that the adventures that I have lived in my career and the lessons that I have learned have brought back a greater benefit to the public, to other people, than they brought to myself. In other words, I hope that my legacy will be that I brought great benefit to the world. I helped make the world a better place. With privilege comes responsibility. I was privileged. I was honored to follow the career that I did, but I think there’s always a responsibility and the responsibility is to push society to not be risk adverse in our processes and in our undertakings and also to continue to take on audacious challenges. So I hope that’s my legacy that people will say that Bob brought benefit back to society and he pushed us to be our best selves.

Clive: Well, from my perspective, Bob, you’ve certainly enriched my understanding of being in space and the values that can come from it. So for that, I thank you and I’ll hand you over for now for Sue to just close out.

Sue:  Thank you, first of all, Clive, for being a wonderful guest host and bringing us a fantastic guest today, Robert. It’s been great to talk to you from an adventurer perspective here. I do really understand what you say about the responsibility when you have a position of privilege or opportunity that few other people have had. If people do want to find out more about you and your work, Robert, how might they be able to do that?

Robert: Thanks, Sue. I have a personal website which includes photos and videos and also a lot of blogs where I sort of reflect on my career and some of the lessons that I learned in the past and current lessons, and I think people would probably be interested in reading that. So, Robert Thirsk, all one word, R-O-B-E-R-T, T-H-I-R-S-K, dot C-A, and they can find more information there.

Sue: Wonderful. We’ll put links to that on the show notes. Again, I’ve been inspired listening to the conversation between you and Clive. Thank you both today. And I wish you all the best in your future ventures today, Robert.

Robert: Thank you, Clive. Thank you, Sue.

Sue: Well, thanks to Robert Thirsk for giving us an insight into the preparation and training that’s needed to survive in space, and to Clive for being a fantastic guest host. You can also listen to another astronaut, J.D. Bartoe, that Robert mentioned in Episode 9 of the podcast. J.D. is an American astronaut who also went into space. Well, do tell us what you enjoyed about this episode. Send us a voice note or a message via our website contact page. Well, that’s the end of this current series. We’ll be back again in a few weeks with Series 17. And until then, we hope you enjoy our episodes that are on the website and they continue to inspire you.

Producer: Sue Stockdale
Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra