PSU prof Evan Thomas may be next Canadian astronaut

Evan Thomas is a finalist among 4000 applicants with the Canadian Space Agency

PSU professor and Canadian astronaut candidate Evan Thomas, May 3, 2017 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Many people dream of going into outer space. But for PSU professor Evan Thomas, it may be a reality.

Thomas is a finalist in a fierce application process to become Canada’s next astronaut. He’s a dual citizen trying for a job that could take him to the International Space Station.

Out of the nearly 4000 applicants, the Canadian Space Agency chose Thomas as one of 17 finalists.

Follow Evan Thomas’ astronaut progress

“I didn’t think I was even going to make it through the first round,” he said. “Each time I make it through the next cut I’m just amazed because there’s such incredible people around us.”

Eventually, the agency will pick just 2 new astronauts.

“It’s pretty cool to get this far,” Thomas told KOIN 6 News. “The CSA has really tested us to our limits.”

Canadian astronaurt candidate (and PSU professor) Evan Thomas during training, undated photo (Courtesy :ÉRIC CARRIÈRE for Agence Spatiale du Canada)
Canadian astronaut candidate (and PSU professor) Evan Thomas during training, undated photo (Courtesy: Éric Carriere  for Agence Spatiale du Canada)

During the past 5 months he’s been to Canada 5 times for the grueling physical and mental testing process that’s designed to show how applicants perform under pressure.

“You know, we’re nearly freezing in this 4-degree water, we’re jumping off 8-meter platforms , we’re getting dunked upside down in this helicopter simulator,” he said, smiling. “Those are not things I do in my day job.”

Thomas said the testing isn’t really about the test.

“It’s more about how you react under pressure, how you react under stress, how you can communicate, how you can work together as a team,” he said.

The 33-year-old is a PSU associate professor of mechanical engineering and public health. He heads a research lab that uses cellular and satellite-based sensors to improve clean water and sanitation in developing countries.

And there’s more.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and “My PhD is in aerospace engineering. I worked at NASA in Houston for 6 years in life-support, helping to design and test technologies for recycling water on the space station,” he said.

If the Canadian Space Agency chooses Thomas, he’ll move back to Houston to train with American astronauts.

“If some miracle happens and I was selected and I got to fly one day, it would be an honor to be on the International Space Station,” he told KOIN 6 News.

He’s proud of Canada’s contribution to space exploration.

“Canada’s contribution has been with robotics. The Canada Arm was the robotic arm on the Space Shuttle,” he said. Now, “Canadarm 2” is on the ISS and can crawl along the space station, controlled by either the astronauts or by ground control in Montreal.

“You know, the space program is one of the few things that humans do that actually bring everybody together. The Space Station is a cooperation between 17 countries, including Canada and the United States and 15 other countries, where astronauts, scientists, engineers are all working together on research and technology that benefit everybody on the planet.”

PSU professor and Canadian astronaut candidate Evan Thomas, May 3, 2017 (KOIN)
PSU professor and Canadian astronaut candidate Evan Thomas, May 3, 2017 (KOIN)

That, he said, is “where cutting edge research is done. I’d love to be a part of that.”

Most of the job is on the ground, he said, and there can be 10 years of training before going into space.

He dreams of visiting another planet.

“I would love to go to Mars. Mars is the planet that is most similar to Earth. It has seasons, it has polar ice caps, there’s evidence of water and where there’s water, there’s life.”

But he admits he’s probably already too old for that but hopes “to at least be around to see it.”

The CSA will make their 2 selections from the astronaut pool sometime this summer.

Evan Thomas – astronaut candidate profile