Canada’s first female astronaut took a break from photographing whooping cranes and wood bison to speak to Fort Smith residents about her experiences not only in orbit, but also in some of the most remote wilderness regions of the world.
Roberta Bondar, who spent eight days aboard space shuttle Discovery in January 1992 conducting experiments in the Spacelab, appeared at Aurora College in Fort Smith the evening of June 11. Prior to her talk, she spent the weekend in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) photographing wildlife from the air on behalf of the foundation she helped create.
Bondar told a packed room that the photos are meant to help generate positive change. After she returned from space, she said she wanted to do something to give people an understanding of what she experienced when she photographed Earth from orbit – that greater sense that it really is a planet with diverse ecosystems.
“We can look at images of our planet and it tells us something about our planet just by taking a photograph,” Bondar said during her presentation.
“I’m getting people excited about life,” Bondar told The Journal about her talks. “We’re all living on the planet at this time together and it’s nice to know what’s going on in the world around us. It helps us understand newspaper articles. It helps us understand what other human beings are doing. And that makes us not isolated.”
Shooting with a 60-megapixel camera that captures an incredible amount of detail, Bondar’s goal with the exhibition is to use photography to get people to ask questions about what’s in the picture and understand the different ecosystems that exist within that one frame.
Although retired from NASA and focusing her time on fine art wildlife photography, most of the audience questions were about her experiences on the space shuttle. She spoke for nearly 45 minutes about being an astronaut, often making jokes about past and present orbital initiatives, and her photography, before opening the floor to questions. Most inquisitive folks were interested in space and related science, but Bondar noted at the end that nobody was “brave or foolish enough” to ask about toilets on the shuttle.
The Roberta Bondar Foundation was established in July 2009 as a way to showcase Bondar’s large-format nature and landscape fine art photography as a means to get people thinking about the environment. The travelling exhibition launched in spring 2011.
This is Bondar’s third visit to Fort Smith and WBNP. She first came north to the park in 2000. Bondar travels the world photographing wildlife and landscapes, including making annual journeys to Africa. She does her work in the name of environmental preservation.
“We believe at the foundation, if you believe in the environment, you want to protect it. If you love something, you want to protect it,” Bondar said.