Engineering alumni one step closer to becoming astronauts with the Canadian Space Agency

HAVING A BLAST: Logan Jones' chances of becoming an astronaut just became a little better.

From a pool of 3,372 astronaut hopefuls, there are two U of A Faculty of Engineering alumni who have made the cut and are among 72* star candidates that the Canadian Space Agency has chosen for the next round of selections. We caught up with one of them recently: Logan Jones, '06 BSc (mechanical engineering).

“It’s amazing to get to this point, it’s a dream come true,” said Jones, who found out he had made the list of 72* on February 2, 2017.

A native of Alberta, Jones develops and implements new aviation safety systems related to take-off and landing for the safety department of Airbus. He works at the company’s training centre in Miami, Florida.

“I grew up outside of Edmonton where I could really see the stars,” said Jones. And it was those starlit nights of the Alberta countryside that ignited his interest in space exploration. “I’d wonder how I could get up there.”

Throughout his schooling, Jones made sure the courses he took served his childhood dream. He studied mechanical engineering at the University of Alberta and also studied at the Institut Supérieur de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace, France.

On top of the course load required to complete a bachelor’s program, Jones worked with Carlos Lange, a mechanical engineering professor, as a summer student designing experiments for the tools aboard Phoenix Mars Lander.

The project was eye-opening and it convinced Jones he was on the right track.

He first applied to join the Canadian astronaut corps in 2009 when the Space Agency launched its recruitment campaign after a 17-year hiatus. It was a lengthy and competitive process. “But in 2009, I knew I didn’t have enough experience,” he said.

By 2016, however, when Jones submitted his application for the second time, he had obtained a master’s degree in aerospace engineering and a doctoral degree in applied mathematics and industrial systems. What’s more, he had gained much-needed international experience.

A combination of education and professional experience, coupled with a strong motivational letter, might have been what set Jones apart. Although he doesn’t yet know the specifics of the next steps of the selection process, Jones stays ahead of the space game.

“Ever since the initial application back in August, I put myself into training,” said Jones, who has started challenging himself both physically and mentally through swimming and running, as well as undertaking exercises that hone his hand-eye coordination, ability to multitask and his visualisation.

All the 72* candidates have a tough job ahead: in the end, the Canadian Space Agency will recruit two astronauts only.

Whether Jones lands his dream job or not, he wants to make a difference, on Earth or in space. "If I can continue to inspire the next generation,” he said, “whether it be in aerospace or space, then I want to do my part."

And he knows that space technology is not limited to the Canadian Space Agency or other similar international agencies. "With commercial space flight companies making significant progress with new launchers like Boeing, Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, etc., there are other opportunities.”

*UPDATE: On March 3, both Logan Jones and Marc Evans found out they had made the next round of cuts. These two UAlberta Engineering alumni are among 32 shortlisted astronaut hopefuls. 

IN THE RUNNING

According to the Canadian Space Agency, the 72 shortlisted candidates hold a total of 79 degrees in engineering. 

Another University of Alberta Faculty of Engineering astronaut candidate is Quebec City native Marc Evans, '12 MSc (mechanical engineering). A program manager at an Ottawa-based defence company, Evans has dreamed of becoming an astronaut ever since he visited the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida at age six. 

We hope to catch up with him before the final selection later this year.