Canadian astronaut Joshua Kutryk has been dreaming of going to the moon ever since he was in Grade 6.
On May 19, he joined Grade 11 and 12 students at Jonah Amitnaaq Secondary School in Baker Lake on a Zoom call to educate them about his long journey to realizing his dreams.
“As a kid I used to dream about going to the moon,” he told students. “It’s still one of the coolest things that technology has achieved.”
Kutryk was invited to speak to students as part of the Canadian Space Agency’s junior astronaut program.
The presentation was originally supposed to be an in-person visit last spring but due to Covid-19 it had to be postponed until this year.
“He was an amazing speaker. How often do you get to talk to a real astronaut?” said career transitions teacher David Applebaum, who was one of two teachers present for virtual session. “It was a great opportunity and the kids really enjoyed it,”
Baker Lake’s senior physics class enrolled in the program last year. As part of their application, senior students had to organize a series of fun challenges for the rest of the school over the course of the year.
“They were STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) activities – building a hovercraft was one, landing a space rover was another one. They also participate in a virtual tour of the solar system on NASA’s website,” said substitute teacher Corey Casey, who sat in on the presentation.
The focus of Kutryk’s talk was his own journey to become an astronaut and his role in NASA’s next mission to the moon. He was actually rejected as a candidate to be an astronaut when he first applied in 2009. When the next opportunity arose in 2017, he was successful. He told the students that his trajectory is an example of why it is important to be persistent.
Following a rigorous selection process, the Canadian Space Agency chose Kutryk to be a part of the Artemis program, which is NASA’s plan to return to the moon by 2023.
“That’ll be the first time any human beings will have returned to the moon since the Apollo missions,” he said.
Although he has been training at NASA headquarters for four years, Kutryk has yet to go to space.
“Life as an astronaut is more about the work you do on Earth than in space,” he said during his presentation.
Students were able to ask Kutryk questions. One asked about the logistics of going to the bathroom while in orbit. Although he didn’t get into the details, Kutryk explained that most human waste becomes recycled.
“It’s kind of a funny question but it’s also a serious question,” he said. “It’s a very small component that ends up as pure waste. A lot of the urine is recycled. It’s processed until it’s water again.”
Student Olive Duval actually ended up stumping Kutryk when she asked him what Artemis stands for.
The astronaut knew that it was named after a Greek deity but did not know that Artemis was the Greek god of the moon.
Duval said she knew being an astronaut wasn’t easy but she was surprised to find out just how much work it takes. She was also interested to find out that astronauts need to learn to speak Russian in order to go to space.
“I always knew that being an astronaut doesn’t mean just going to space. I knew about it but I didn’t know it took that much time to go space,” she said.
Even with all his training, Kutryk is still not guaranteed to be one of the select few to go the moon, as the selection process for that phase of the Artemis mission has yet to happen.
However, he said if he is chosen, he would make sure to remember Baker Lake while in orbit.
“If I get up to the space station in the next few years, I promise to try and take a picture of Baker Lake and send it to you.”