School of Kinesiology’s Dr. Michael Koehle shortlisted for Canadian astronaut program

This story is an excerpt published from “Three UBCers shortlisted for Canadian astronaut programs” by Neha Sree Tadepalli, published in the Ubyssey on February 27, 2017. Read the whole story here.

In June 2016, for the fourth time in Canadian space history, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) launched a call for potential astronauts. Of those that applied, three UBC faculty/alumni were selected for the 72-person shortlist.

Four thousand applicants answered this call for two spots to join the next class of Canadian space explorers.

For Koehle, a practicing physician-scientist and associate professor at UBC Vancouver, becoming an astronaut isn’t something he ever expected to happen.

“As a kid, it’s kind of up there with mermaid and NHL hockey player,” he said.

However, planned or unplanned, Koehle’s career lined up well with the recruitment specifications. He was a scientist studying the impact of stress on human bodies in various environments, a sport and exercise medicine physician who had practiced in many rural and remote areas with limited resources — such as the Arctic, the Himalayas and remote areas of Africa — as well as an avid scuba diver and pilot.

“When the call went around and basically said, ‘Hey, we’re looking for pilots, scientists and doctors,’ I thought, ‘Okay, well I can check those boxes and it was certainly of interest to me [so let’s] see what happens here,’” said Koehle.

That sentiment is still evident in Koehle. When asked what the most surprising or interesting part of the selection process has been so far, he semi-jokes that he hasn’t “been kicked out — yet.”

He also said one element that is continually stressed during the process is the importance of communication and teamwork.

“It’s not so much about leadership as it is about ‘followership.’ You’re being given instructions, and you and your team are meant to follow them to the best of your collective ability — you are not supposed to take charge and be this bright visionary scientist.”

Koehle said that the experience has been “fascinating,” but one of the highlights so far has been meeting the other candidates.

“It has been really great to meet [the other] shortlisted candidates because they are all, kind of in their own way, rock stars,” he said. Koehle said that another highlight has been that the whole process has been a huge learning experience and that is one of the key things that actually drew him to apply.