The Earth

One Month and Counting

For the last 28 years I served as an astronaut of the Canadian Space Agency and was privileged to fly twice in space.  I have a lifetime of wonderful memories of both of those missions and long-lasting friendships with my crew mates.

The Earth

One month ago, I left the astronaut corps to join the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).  Several people have since asked, “Why leave a space career to join a health research organization?”  My answer in a single word is “exploration”.

Exploration has always been a part of my life.  I enjoy reading about the early Canadian explorers – the aboriginals, Samuel de Champlain, Jacques Cartier, Sir Alexander MacKenzie, David Thompson.  These remarkable people are my heroes.  They discovered unknown lands and established new communities.

As a child, I enjoyed watching TV programs about the climbers who ascended the highest mountains, about the undersea adventurers who dove the depths of the seas and, of course, about the Apollo astronauts who walked on the Moon.

Exploration is a basic instinct of all humans.  It is about breaking through frontiers.  During the age of discovery, these were frontiers of location, of distance, of height, of depth.  Today when we speak of exploration, we no longer refer solely to geographical or spatial frontiers.  Today we more commonly address frontiers of knowledge and capabilities.

Robert ThirskThe modern frontiers of exploration include health care.  There is still much left to discover – the basis of consciousness, the riddle of the genetic code, the cure for cancer.  Although I immensely enjoyed the challenge of spaceflight, it is discovery in general that captures my spirit.

Health researchers are remarkable people.  They wish to provide societal value and make a difference in the lives of patients.  They inspire me to attempt the difficult and to contemplate the unknown.  They instill a ‘can do’ attitude to attack the tough medical questions of the day.  This is why I joined the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.  CIHR is an organization that espouses excellence, collaboration and innovation.  It espouses a national spirit of exploration similar to that of other organizations like the CSA and NASA.

Anyway … this is the first entry of my blog on health research.  Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American philosopher, once said that “Life is a journey, not a destination”.  The intent of my posts is to tell you about the journeys of discovery taken by my colleagues in health research.  I’ll introduce you to the surgeons who use robots to treat brain cancer and to the scientists who unravel the genetic code.  I’ll give you insight into their thoughts about health research.  I may even share my thoughts as a new executive in health research.  For me, this is certainly a journey into uncharted territory!

September 7, 2012

Question: Is the spirit of exploration alive and well in Canada?

12 thoughts on “One Month and Counting

  1. I like this for this is a welcome phase in my life to know all about health research. Thanks for sharing. Good luck in your new endeavor and God bless you.

  2. advanture is good but exploration is much good then to visit space as we know that history remind us our glorious past but discovery gives new things to know & after sometimes it becames again history

  3. RobertThirsk,Sir Your are star of inspiration for the curious minded people as well as man in street. Your Article is attracting our attention to leave the laziness and devote ourselves for the unseen journey. Salute to Your Highness!!!!

  4. Nice to see your spirit of discovering and unrevealing something different from your field, I wish I could be their in your institute and would have worked with you.

  5. All science branches are merge into single word that is physics. Today humans are at the moon, every treatment can be possible. Resarch is the word that explore every thing in the universe.

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