Peterborough native Jay Cullen on astronaut shortlist

University of Victoria oceanographer one of 72 candidate recruits for Canadian Space Agency

Jay Cullen (photo: University of Victoria)
Jay Cullen (photo: University of Victoria)

Peterborough native Jay Cullen is on the shortlist to become one of Canada’s next astronauts. He’s among 72 candidates left in the Canadian Space Agency’s rigorous recruitment process.

Cullen, who currently lives in British Columbia where he’s a professor of chemical oceanography at the University of Victoria, says his background in science, education and exploration has prepared him well for the job of astronaut.

“I’ve always dreamed about going into space,” Cullen says. “My motivation is the thrill of exploration and discovery, my belief in the scientific method as a way of knowing about our universe, and the need to improve public science literacy.”

During childhood camping trips near Peterborough, Cullen often gazed up at orbiting satellites as they tracked across the night sky and wondered who built them, how they got up there, and what new science they were designed to gather.

At the University of Victoria, Cullen studies the chemistry of metals in seawater that can be nutrients or toxins for microscopic plants in the ocean. The work is important for understanding climate change, the health of Canada’s fisheries, and the effects of pollution on the ocean.

“In many ways the ocean is just as unknown and inhospitable to human beings as space,” Cullen says. “My work is focused on understanding our planet so that we can be better stewards of our resources and help improve environmental and human health, which are inseparable. The goals of space exploration are very similar.”

VIDEO: Jay Cullen explains his work at the University of Victoria

The Canadian Space Agency announced last summer that it was looking for two astronauts and over 4,000 people applied. Cullen is one of the 72 people left on the shortlist.

According to the Canadian Space Agency, Canada is entitled to two long-duration astronaut flights to the International Space Station between now and 2024. The first flight is set for November 2018 and the second flight is yet to be scheduled.

In the coming weeks, Cullen will take part in a series of physical, mental and social assessments in an effort to progress to the next round in the recruitment process. The two winning candidates will be selected this summer.

Until now, Cullen says, the focus has been on background and physical fitness for the job.

“It’s been fun but challenging. This next phase will focus on what I can do and how I compare to the other applicants. I’m looking forward to it.”

When asked if he can sing and play guitar (in reference to famed Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield), Cullen says “I do play guitar and bass guitar to relax, although my singing could use some work. Maybe the International Space Station has better acoustics than my bathroom. I hope so.”

For more information about all 72 astronaut candidates, visit asc-csa.gc.ca.

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