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View from space gave astronaut new perspective on life

The Women’s Canadian Club London is kicking off its 2021-22 speaker series with trailblazing Canadian astronaut Dave Williams. Holding the record for the most spacewalks by a Canadian astronaut, Williams has spent more than 687 hours in space and is the only non-American to have a senior management role at NASA. He’s also the country’s first dual astronaut and aquanaut, having lived and worked in space and the ocean. Apart from living underwater or above Earth, Williams worked as an emergency room physician and has authored several books about science, medicine and space exploration. Thursday, Williams will be at the Hellenic Community Centre in London to talk about his memoir, Defying Limits: Lessons from the Edge of the Universe. Reporter Calvi Leon caught up with him before the event to learn more about his career beyond the planet.

Thursday, you’ll be speaking about your memoir. Can you tell us what it’s all about?

The memoir outlines my life story. It talks about how and why I became a physician and then an astronaut, the relationship that I’ve had with my wife, which is now spanning over 40 years, and the role she played in supporting my career. I do, obviously, talk about flying in space and what an amazing experience that is, and how memorable it is. But really, the book is more about life and the opportunity we all have to live our lives to the fullest.

Why did you become an astronaut?

I dreamt of becoming an astronaut from the time I was about seven years old, in 1961. Alan Shepard lifted off to go into space on May 5, about 11 days prior to my seventh birthday. I remember watching this on a little black and white television, you know, with the grainy images, and looking at that and going, ‘That’s unbelievable. That’s what I want to do.’

You’ve spent a lot of time in space, more than 687 hours. What did you eat up there? Do you have any go-to snacks?

On my second space flight, it was primarily caribou jerky. Because in space, you want stuff that’s really easy to eat … I had that primarily before I was going outside to do my spacewalks. On my first space flight, it was a blend of different things. We do have M & M’s in space and they’re pretty popular. You can play basketball with them if you want.

How did you go to the washroom?

Very carefully.

Can you describe the view from space? What does the Earth look like?

It’s the most spectacular view ever seen in my life. There are no words to describe it … I remember looking at the planet thinking, the entire history of the human species has taken place on the planet beneath me, this 4 1/2 billion-year-old planet. All my friends, my family, my loved ones, they’re all living there. I began to think about that in the context of cosmic time, which is like a small speck of sand on this infinite beach of life … That’s when I really thought this is an opportunity for all of us to live our legacy on a day-to-day basis to try to find and create meaning in our lives.

Q: What do you want people to take away from your presentation on Thursday?

Finding meaning in life. Understanding that we all have the ability to choose how we can respond to the situation that we’re in. And that certainly applies to COVID. We’ve all been weathering the storm, arguably in different boats, and some people have had to deal with absolute tragedy and catastrophe. Others have, fortunately, not had the same challenges, but it’s affected all of us. I think maybe that’ll be one big takeaway that people will have, is we’re beginning to see the possibility of emerging from this pandemic, and what this means for all of us.

What: The Women’s Canadian Club London speaker series featuring Dave Williams

When: Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. In-person tickets are sold out, but members can watch the presentation on Facebook. The list of the speakers for this year can be found at www.womenscanadianclublondon.com/speaker-series/.

Where: New this year, events for the speaker series will be held at the Hellenic Community Centre, 133 Southdale Rd. W. in London

cleon@postmedia.com

-The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada



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