When Robert Thirsk was a young boy, he listened to a radio broadcast of an astronaut who had just launched into space from Florida.

“He was circling the Earth in a spaceship,” Thirsk, now a Canadian astronaut, told hundreds of local students at the newly renamed Canada Aviation and Space Museum yesterday. “The teacher explained this man’s name was John Glenn. He was the first American astronaut to orbit around the Earth.

“That was the first day of my life I had heard the word ‘space’ spoken and the first day I heard the word ‘astronaut’ spoken,” Thirsk said. “And that was the day when I had a dream, and that dream was to someday, if I had the opportunity, become an astronaut and to fly in space.”

Selected for the Canadian Astronaut Program in 1983, Thirsk served as crew commander for two missions.

From May to December 2009, he became the first Canadian astronaut to fly a long duration expedition aboard the International Space Station, where he lived and worked for 188 days, conducting experiments on behalf of Canadian and international researchers.

Experiments included how the brain adapts to weightlessness, how fire burns, fluids flow and plants grow in space, and medical experiments, including how human hearts and perception change in space.

“I never stopped smiling the whole time I was up there,” said Thirsk, who helped to mark the changing of the museum’s name from the Canadian Aviation Museum in order to better showcase aviation and aerospace yesterday.

This initiative was propelled by a new partnership between the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation and the Canadian Space Agency.

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