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Calgary's Jennifer Sidey tapped to become astronaut flying high

It was a phone call that left Calgary’s Jenni Sidey over the moon.

The 28-year-old was sitting with her partner in her office at the University of Cambridge in England late last month when the phone rang.

It was a call she was expecting — the Canadian Space Agency was narrowing down its search for Canada’s next astronauts from a short list of 17 to just two.

“When the phone rang, I was both pretty terrified and excited as the same time,” said the Calgary native.

“It’s something that’s just difficult to believe and that really hits home.”

During the call with Canadian Space Agency president Sylvain Laporte, Sidey learned  she had been chosen along with Fort Saskatchewan’s Joshua Kutryk as Canada’s newest astronaut recruits.

Come August they are to begin two years of astronaut candidate training at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston. The duo were unveiled before cheering crowds at Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations in Ottawa last Saturday.

Canada’s newest astronauts Joshua Kutryk and Jennifer Sidey acknowledge the crowd during Canada 150 celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday, July 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Sean Kilpatrick

It’s the culmination of a dream held by Sidey since she was a little girl, not unlike so many other children who gaze towards the stars and imagine exploring space.

While she moved on to other interests as she got older, studying engineering with a focus on combustion, the notion of soaring 100 km above Earth’s surface has always been with her.

“I remember being a kid and how exciting it was to watch Canadian astronauts growing up. It’s a dream,” Sidey said, noting she was particularly transfixed by Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut, who flew on the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery in 1992 who she breathlessly watched as a four-year-old.

“Roberta Bondar was special because she so groundbreaking.”

Sidey, who counts Alien as her favourite science fiction film, was among 3,772 applicants who responded to the CSA’s call for recruits nearly a year ago. In April, she and 16 other hopefuls were named to the agency’s short list where the underwent rigorous training and testing to ensure the best candidates emerged.

But with her selection, Sidey’s real journey now begins, as she joins NASA’s 2017 astronaut class in Houston, where she and Kutryk will spend the next two years undergoing intensive technical briefings, simulated spacewalks, robotics, physiological training, flight training and learning the ins and outs of International Space Station (ISS) systems.

They’ll also take Russian language courses along with sea and wilderness survival training.

Upon graduation, Sidey said they’ll work to support current Canadian astronauts Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques, along with the other international astronauts, while they patiently await “their turn.”

“There’s a lot more work to do,” she said.

“It’s pretty far down the road and I have so much to learn.”

After Sidey got the fateful call that changed her life, she made a call of her own, dialing up her mother to let her know the big news.

“I called my mum and she was as cool as can be about it,” Sidey said.

“She said she just knew all along.”

slogan@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @ShawnLogan403

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