Engineer Bjarni Tryggvason chosen to be part of Canada’s first astronaut team


Canadian Space Agency astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason on September 28, 2005.Nasa

When Bjarni Tryggvason was 12 years old and living in Kitimat, British Columbia, the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite, captured his imagination. Forty years later, after a series of failures, he enters space himself, as a payload specialist aboard the shuttle Discovery.

He had already achieved impressive flying credentials, having acquired his airline pilot license and working as a flight instructor at Ottawa’s Rockcliffe Airport, when the Canadian government announced it was hiring astronauts in July 1983. But it was his background as a fluid dynamics engineer that landed Mr. Tryggvason the job. His background in engineering and science matched exactly the qualifications established for the Canadian space program, for which flight experience was only listed as an “asset”. Mr. Tryggvason was one of six people chosen from nearly 4,400 applicants to be part of Canada’s first astronaut team.

He died suddenly in London, Ontario on April 5 at the age of 76.

The first team of Canadian astronauts was selected in 1983. Back row, left to right: Ken Money, Marc Garneau, Steve MacLean and Bjarni Tryggvason. Seated: Robert Thirsk and Roberta Bondar.Canadian Space Agency

Bjarni Valdimar Tryggvason was known for forging his own path, beginning with his birth on September 21, 1945, in Reykjavik, Iceland. When he was 7 years old, he and his family immigrated to Canada.

Young Bjarni attended elementary school in Nova Scotia before his family moved to Kitimat, BC and later to Richmond, BC. He received a Bachelor of Applied Science in Engineering Physics from the University of British Columbia in 1972 and continued his graduate studies. in engineering, majoring in applied mathematics and fluid dynamics at the University of Western Ontario.

After conducting research in Japan and Australia and working as a meteorologist, Dr. Tryggvason was hired as a research officer at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) in Ottawa in 1982, where he explored the effects of very high winds on buildings and helped investigate the causes of the Ocean Ranger disaster that year. In 1983, the NRC was tasked with hiring Canada’s first group of astronauts after the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration invited Canada to fly its own astronauts on the shuttle, and Mr. Tryggvason participated in the negotiations between the two agencies.

In December 1983, the NRC revealed Canada’s first group of astronauts: doctors Roberta Bondar and Robert Thirsk, physiologist Ken Money and engineers Marc Garneau, Steve MacLean and Mr. Tryggvason.

In the days leading up to the creation of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in 1989 and the establishment of its modern headquarters in Longueuil, Quebec, life for newly appointed astronauts was far from glamorous, as the story goes. author Lydia Dotto. The six people shared a suite of three small offices at the back of an isolated NRC building in Ottawa. Mr. Tryggvason acted as a flight instructor for three of his colleagues who had no flying experience as the Canadians prepared to work with astronauts from the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) who were experienced pilots. The four astronauts bought a Cessna 172 for the lessons.

NRC’s plans for an orderly sequence of Canadian astronaut flights were shattered during the astronauts’ first month on the job in January 1984, when NASA announced that a Canadian would have a seat on the shuttle much sooner than expected. . Mr. Garneau became the first Canadian to fly in space in October. In late 1985, Mr. Tryggvason was appointed as Mr. MacLean’s replacement for a shuttle mission scheduled for 1987.

A few weeks later, however, the loss of the space shuttle Challenger and its crew on January 28, 1986 grounded the shuttle fleet for almost three years and the Canadian astronaut team for twice as long. Mr. Tryggvason spent the break researching and continuing preparations for Mr. MacLean’s flight, which eventually took place in 1992. During this time, Mr. Tryggvason and his wife, Lilyanna Zmijak, had a son, Michael, and a daughter, Lauren. Mr. Tryggvason was known as a proud father until the end of his life.

These were years of uncertainty for Mr. Tryggvason, as he did not know if the CSA would fund a flight for him. Most astronauts flew on the shuttle as mission specialists having completed two years of NASA astronaut training. Canadian astronauts were classified as payload specialists who had less training, and payload specialists were phased out after the Challenger disaster. Over time, Mr. Tryggvason had to attend the mission specialist training of his colleagues, including Chris Hadfield, who joined the Canadian astronaut team in 1992 and flew three years later, and Mr. Garneau, who made a second flight in 1996. .

A few months later, when Mr. Tryggvason was named to the crew of the STS-85 shuttle mission, he told reporters: “About time, huh?” Along with five NASA astronauts, Mr. Tryggvason lifted off aboard Discovery on August 7, 1997. The launch ended his more than 13-year wait for a flight. He became the sixth Canadian astronaut in space.

Mr. Tryggvason departs with other crew members for the launch pad, August 7, 1997.Joe Skipper/REUTERS

The launch of his shuttle was also celebrated in Iceland, his native land.

During the mission, Tryggvason conducted experiments with the Microgravity Isolation Stand, which he and UBC engineering professor Tim Salcudean designed to create the perfect conditions for materials experiments in microgravity without the jolts and vibrations caused by astronauts, machines and thrusters aboard spacecraft. Their device also flew aboard the Russian Mir Space Station and later the International Space Station (ISS).

Mr. Tryggvason speaks with then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien aboard the space shuttle Discovery on August 12, 1997, in this television image.NASA TV / hotspot

The STS-85 crew studied changes in the Earth’s atmosphere using a free-flight payload and tested ISS equipment during a mission that lasted 11 days and 20 hours in 185 Earth orbits covering 7.6 million kilometres.

A year later, Mr. Tryggvason joined Mr. Thirsk and NASA’s 17th Astronaut Group to begin two years of mission specialist training at NASA’s Johnson Spaceflight Center, which qualified him to fly at new on the shuttle and the ISS. But the opportunity never arose until he retired from the CSA in 2008 after 25 years as an astronaut. He became a visiting professor at Western University in London, Ontario.

Mr. Tryggvason continued to fly planes. To mark the centenary of the first flight of a powered aircraft in Canada, he flew a replica of this biplane, Alexander Graham Bell’s Silver Dart., ice on Bras d’Or Lake near Baddeck, NS The flight took place a day earlier, on February 22, 2009, despite unfavorable weather forecasts for the anniversary day.

Mr. Tryggvason with a replica of the Silver Dart on February 6, 2009, before a scheduled test flight in Hamilton, Ontario.COLIN PERKEL/The Canadian Press

Mr. Tryggvason pilots the replica Silver Dart on the frozen Bras d’Or lakes.Vaughan Merchant/Handout via The Canadian Press

He enjoyed flying many types of planes, including aerobatic planes with his son, Michael, and he recently served as a technical advisor for the 2022 feature film. moon fall. Among his many accolades, he was made an Associate Member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and a member of the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame.

Mr. Tryggvason leaves Mrs. Zmijak and her children, Michael and Lauren Tryggvason.

Known for his mischievous sense of humor, Mr. Tryggvason could speak candidly when faced with substandard work. “He was the smartest engineer I’ve ever met and an extremely gifted pilot,” recalls Mr. Garneau, now an MP. Mr Hadfield called him a ‘kind, funny and quirky man’.

Among the first to mourn his death was the President of Iceland, Gudni Th. Johannesson, who posted his condolences on Twitter, noting that Mr Tryggvason was “the first and only Icelandic-born person in space”.

Mr. Tryggvason enters data into a computer regarding the Microgravity Vibration Isolation Mount (MIM) experiment on the middeck of the space shuttle Discovery during mission STS-85, August 7-19, 1997.Nasa


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