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Themes - Science

Julie Payette

Photograph of Julie Payette

(1963- )



Electrical and computer engineer, pilot, and the first Canadian to work onboard the International Space Station

The Canadian Space Agency selected Julie Payette as one of four astronauts from amongst 5330 applicants in June 1992.

Payette was born in 1963 in Montreal, Quebec and she attended primary and secondary school there. Later she was awarded a scholarship to attend the United World College of the Atlantic in Wales and obtained an International Baccalaureate from the College in 1982. A recent article reports that she wrote the following comment for the College yearbook: "One day I'll make an enormous pop right into orbit around the earth and contemplate the world." (Branswell 1999)

Payette received a number of other scholarships and earned a Bachelor of Engineering degree (with distinction) in electrical engineering from McGill University in 1986 and a Master of Applied Science in computer engineering from the University of Toronto in 1990. In recent years, she has received several honorary doctorates from Canadian universities.

Payette acquired experience prior to entering the Canadian space program as System Engineer at IBM Canada (1986-1988); a Research Assistant at the University of Toronto (1988-1990); a Visiting Scientist at the IBM Research Laboratory in Zurich, Switzerland (1991); and as a Research Engineer for the Speech Research Group at Bell-Northern Research in Montreal (1992). Her research concerned computer systems, natural language processing, automatic speech recognition and the application of interactive technology in space.

In 1992 she joined the Canadian Space Agency. Once she had completed basic training, she began work as a technical advisor for the MSS (Mobile Servicing System), a robotic system that is the Canadian contribution to the International Space Station. She established the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Group at the Canadian Astronaut Office and then worked as a technical specialist on the NATO International Research Study Group (RSG-10) on speech processing (1993-1996).

During her training period in Canada, Payette acquired her commercial pilot licence and logged over 120 hours of reduced gravity flight-time aboard a number of microgravity aircraft. In February of 1996, she obtained her captaincy on the CT-114 military jet at the Canadian Air Force Base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Payette was selected to attend NASA's Astronaut Candidate Training at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center from 1996 to 1998 and then worked on technical issues in space robotics for the NASA Astronaut Office.

Payette served as a Mission Specialist on the twenty-sixth flight of Space Shuttle Discovery from May 27 to June 6, 1999. During the mission the first manual docking of the shuttle to the International Space Station (ISS) was performed. She was the eighth Canadian Space Agency astronaut to fly in the weightless environment of space. She became the first Canadian to go on board the Station and to participate in an ISS assembly mission. A few months later, she spoke with a journalist about her work and said, "I know I'm a perfectionist, driven, maybe even compulsive. It's part of the package. The most important thing is to find your niche in life, your element. This is mine." (Phillips 1999)

Ms. Payette's other interests include running, skiing, raquet sports and scuba diving. She is fluent in French and English and conversational in Spanish, Italian and Russian. As well, she is a trained pianist, soprano soloist and chorister.

She is a member of L'Ordre des Ingénieurs du Québec and Les Amies d'affaires du Ritz. She was appointed a member of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada in 1995. She is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and a member of the Board of Directors, United World Colleges (International).

Julie Payette is currently the Chief Astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency. She is a liaison officer and member of the Crew Test Support Team responsible for International Space Station test activities in Russia and in Europe.


Branswell, Brenda. — "Ambition accomplished  : the multitalented Julie Payette joins the roll of Canadian space travellers". — Maclean's.  — Vol. 112 no. 20 (May 17, 1999). — P. 57-58

"Julie Payette". — Canadian Space Agency. — [Cited June 22, 2001]. — Access:

Phillips, Andrew. — "Julie Payette". — Maclean's. — Vol. 112 no. 50 (December 13, 1999). — P. 62-63

Children's literature :

Clerc, Isabelle. — Julie Payette astronaute et Anh Dao. — Saint-Lambert, Québec : Héritage, 1995. — 157 p.

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