University of New Brunswick alumnus Alex DeLorey will find out on Canada Day if he is going to be one of this nation’s newest astronauts.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to reveal the Canadian Space Agency’s two successful candidates on Saturday on Parliament Hill, bringing the year-long selection process for two new astronauts to a close.
“I’m feeling a bit relieved that the whole year is over now and excited for the next step – to find out who the astronauts are going to be,” says Mr. DeLorey, who earned his bachelor of science degree in engineering at UNB in 2007.
He credits much of his perseverance and success to his experiences at the university.
“My education at UNB was key to helping me develop the knowledge and skills I needed to get to this point and further,” he says. “The program I went through was thorough and taught me the fundamentals of engineering, how to apply my knowledge and most importantly how to continue learning with each new experience.”
Mr. DeLorey, a native of the Moncton area who now lives in southern Ontario, always wanted to be an astronaut. He settled for being a mechanical engineer who works on the refurbishment of nuclear reactors, but the dream was still there, bubbling away on a back burner. Then, in June 2016, the space agency announced it was seeking recruits. Suddenly, his ambition was back on full boil.
“I was at work when I saw that the application was out. I texted my wife and said, ‘Honey, they’re looking for astronauts, I’m going to apply’ and she just texted back ‘OK’,” says Mr. DeLorey. “She knows me, she knows that’s the way I am. A couple of days later, after I looked more into the application, I realized there’s a few things I could do to make it better.”
Like becoming a certified scuba diver. And learning how to fly a plane. And then jumping out of one. All to be done in six weeks. Those were Mr. DeLorey’s “few things.” The way he tells it, these were things he was going to get around to doing anyway.
“They were on my radar for someday. Scuba diving was one that I wanted to get checked off in the near future. Skydiving was kind of mid-term. And flying was really a retirement type of goal,” he says.
“One of the great rewards for us,” says Dr. Chris Diduch, dean of engineering at UNB, “is seeing our students graduate and pursue these kinds of dreams. We endeavour to instill confidence in them to pursue opportunity and excellence. But sometimes, like Alex here, they surpass the highest of expectations.
“We’re crossing our fingers for him.”
Mr. DeLorey is one of two UNB graduates to make it into the vaunted competition to find Canada’s next astronauts.
Geoscientist Crystal LaFlamme, who earned a doctorate in earth science and geology at UNB in 2014, made it through three rounds of cuts.
“To have Alex as one of the final 17 candidates in Canada’s space program, and Crystal having made it to the top 72 out of nearly 4,000 applicants, is incredible for both of them. Already accomplished individuals, they serve as true inspiration – not just to UNB students and fellow alumni, but to all Canadians,” says Margaret Grant-McGivney, executive director of UNB Associated Alumni.
“They have pushed harder, reached higher, chased their dreams,” she says. “We’re incredibly proud to have them as part of the University of New Brunswick family and we can’t wait to find out who will be chosen to be Canada’s next astronauts.”
Today, Dr. LaFlamme is a research fellow with the University of Western Australia, working with a team of geoscientists that study how the Earth’s crust formed and evolved over billions of years.
While Dr. LaFlamme describes her application in the race for space as a “last-second” affair after discovering she met the qualifications, Mr. DeLorey spent weeks putting his application together. His wife, Leina Cho, was three months’ pregnant, and when the couple discussed it, they decided that pursuing this dream could be part of setting an example for their unborn son.
“I didn’t want to wake up in the fall after the application deadline had passed and be disappointed I didn’t apply,” says Mr. DeLorey. “We talked about being able to tell our kids, ‘Here’s the type of things you need to do, and to be able to back that up with our actions’ so that we can help instill those values and morals in them growing up.”
Mr. DeLorey survived successive rounds of cuts during a selection process that was both mentally and physically taxing. Mr. DeLorey says his confidence increased with each round.
“When I got the invite to the round of 32, my confidence level went way up. When I got the invite to the finals here, my confidence level was very high. I’m kind of on pins and needles now because we did the medical tests last, and I don’t know what I don’t know.”
The medical is perhaps the cruelest test these aspiring astronauts face. Many of the issues they test for are genetic or slow-developing conditions and therefore entirely out of a candidate’s control or unknown to them until this last stage.
“There could be a little arrhythmia in my heart. I could have a kidney stone that could take me out of the running,” says Mr. DeLorey. “There’s nothing I could do to prepare for some of the long-term things or genetic things that I don’t know about.”
Ian Fogarty is co-director of SHAD UNB and taught Mr. DeLorey physics at Riverview High School.
“Alex was, and still is, an interesting guy to have on a team because he works hard and is dedicated, but he is also relaxed and jovial and lighthearted,” says Mr. Fogarty. “It’s an interesting combination to have a good work ethic with a lighthearted personality. It makes you an important person to the team.”
No matter the outcome, Mr. DeLorey takes pride in the fact that he’s been able to share this positive experience.
“There was one instance during the first round of 72 when one of the other candidates was getting a little disappointed, and so I asked what was the matter and he explained and I said, ‘Just think of where you are.’ And he kind of looks at me and I go, ‘You’re at astronaut tryouts! No matter what happens, this is phenomenal!’”
Media contact: Colin Hodd
Photo: UNB engineering alumnus Alex DeLorey competing aptitude tests during the Canadian Space Agency competition to become Canada’s next astronaut. (Canadian Space Agency, MCpl Chris Ringius, DND. /© Canadian Space Agency)