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Soaring to new heights

Only a select few will ever get to go to space during their lifetime, but for some 4 Wing personnel that dream is closer than ever.
Capt. Vanessa Fulford, a flight test engineer at 4 Wing Cold Lake, is one of 72 candidates hoping to become the next Canadian astronaut.
Capt. Vanessa Fulford, a flight test engineer at 4 Wing Cold Lake, is one of 72 candidates hoping to become the next Canadian astronaut.

Only a select few will ever get to go to space during their lifetime, but for some 4 Wing personnel that dream is closer than ever.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced the 72 Canadians in the running to become the country's next astronaut. Among them, are RCAF pilots Capt. Vanessa Fulford and Maj. Joshua Kutryk, both stationed at CFB Cold Lake.

“It's something I've thought about doing all my life. It started when I was about 13, my dad actually planned our family vacation around a shuttle launch...we actually got to see a night launch of the space shuttle Endeavor,” recalled Fulford. “After seeing that and going to the Kennedy Space Center, I got really interested in the exploration they do, the science that happens, and just the thought of going into space – it's the ultimate adventure.”

Fulford is a 14-year member of the RCAF, and is approaching her three year anniversary since moving to Cold Lake in 2014.

Growing up in Fort McMurray, Fulford attended the Royal Military College immediately after high school where she obtained her bachelor's in space science. After training to become an aerospace engineering officer, she did her first tour in Cold Lake working in maintenance, before heading to Ottawa to work as a project officer. Eventually, Fulford's path led her back to Cold Lake, where she currently serves as a Flight Test Engineer with the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment.

“The flying is pretty exciting; we get to do some really neat flight testing. Basically, anytime there's new equipment or new software we're the first ones to try it out,” explained Fulford.

In the summer of 2016, she decided to embark on a whole new adventure when the CSA put out their call for applicants in June.

The astronaut recruitment program sees applications from space enthusiasts from across Canada who have related education and training. After sifting through the many resumes, 72 candidates were chosen to undergo the subsequent medical exams and testing.

This summer, just two applicants will be chosen to be the next Canadian astronauts.

“I don't even think I could think of words to say about that, it would be my childhood dream come true and the most amazing experience,” Fulford said of if she was to become an astronaut. “I've been trying to think of what I would say, but I just can't. I think I would just be in shock and the happiest that I could possibly be.”

Joining in the competition to become the next astronaut is Kutryk, who works at 4 Wing as the officer commanding, fighter operational test and evaluation flight.

Raised on a cattle farm in the Elk Point – Two Hills area, participating in air cadets gave him the inkling to join RCAF.

“I don't really know, I just always wanted to fly planes and I had an interest in flying advanced planes or working with advanced technology.”

After making his way through Royal Military College, Kutryk constantly strove to further his knowledge. Ending up in Bagotville, QC with 425 Squadron, there he spent over 200 days a year flying all over North America. He then went on to take post-grad studies and branch into test piloting.

A 17 year member with the RCAF, Kutryk is also heading into year three in Cold Lake.

When it comes to making the transition to being an astronaut, it's one he's been waiting for. This is Kutryk's second time applying to the program, first trying in 2008.

“I remember going to an IMAX film at the Edmonton Science Centre in the early 80s, probably four or five-years-old, and watching the Canadarm One, which was going up for the first time. The dream of doing this has always been with me ever since then,” Kutryk recalled. “It's basically a matter of a deep intrinsic personal interest in everything to do with science and exploration... I've wanted to do it forever and I'm pretty excited they've decided to launch another campaign.”

For someone who knows what it's like to dream of space, should Kutryk be one of the two chosen, he hopes to pass on the joys of being in outer space.

“I know that there are tons of children who have the same kinds of interests and goals. I would be really excited to, metaphorically, take them with me. It gives you a chance to really impact other people and open up space to all of these people who wouldn't get to go themselves.”

The two applicants chosen to become Canada's next astronaut will be announced this summer. They will be required to relocate to Houston, Texas, with astronaut training to follow.