Bjarni Tryggvason, one of the original six Canadian astronauts who flew aboard NASA’s space shuttle, has died at the age of 76.
The news of Tryggvason’s death (opens in new tab) on Monday (April 5) was first shared online by former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, who was training at Tryggvason as a member of the US Space Agency’s 1998 International Astronaut Candidate Group.
“Rest in peace penguin classmate. It was an honor to train and work with you,” Melvin wrote on Instagram (opens in new tab) on Wednesday (April 6th). “Condolences to the family. Lots of love.”
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) then confirmed that Tryggvason had died with one Statement posted on Twitter (opens in new tab).
“It is with deep sadness and heavy hearts that we learn of the passing of former CSA astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason,” the agency wrote. “He held the highest standard in everything he undertook.”
Canadian Space Agency: Facts and Information
Tryggvason’s only space flight preceded his training with Melvin. Tryggvason was selected by the National Research Council of Canada as one of the country’s first six astronauts in 1983 and launched in August 1997 as a payload specialist with NASA’s STS-85 crew.
The 12-day mission included the deployment and recovery of a free-flying satellite (CRISTA-SPAS-2) that was studying changes in Earth’s atmosphere, as well as a predecessor to the remotely operated manipulator system, or robotic arm, now located outside Japan’s Kibo module Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on the International Space Station.
Tryggvason’s primary role aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery was to operate and evaluate the Microgravity Vibration Isolation Mount (MIM), a small Canadian-developed instrument designed to isolate payloads and experiments from interference caused by engine firing or crew activity were caused. An upgrade of a similar device installed and successfully deployed on Russia’s former Mir space station, the MIM used magnetic actuators to levitate and isolate individual experiments. It was later modified for use aboard the International Space Station.
On the seventh day of the flight, Mission Control woke Tryggvason and his five crew members to The Beach Boys’ song “Good Vibrations” in tribute to Tryggvason’s work at MIM.
“The fact that I was working on my own science experiments was actually pretty good,” Tryggvason said in a 2015 interview (opens in new tab) with the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s. “I decided to study how liquids would behave in space. There are many experiments with liquids as the element. I ended up developing this electromagnetic hover platform [and] that flew on the Russian space station, that flew on my flight [and] was involved in the design of another one that is now on the space station.”
Tryggvason landed near his launch site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and logged a total of 11 days, 20 hours, 28 minutes and 7 seconds in flight while completing 185 orbits around the world.
Bjarni Valdimar Tryggvason was born on September 21, 1945 in Reykjavik, Iceland, but spent his youth in Nova Scotia and British Columbia, Canada. He received his Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Engineering Physics from the University of British Columbia in 1972 and later completed a postgraduate degree in Engineering with a specialization in Applied Mathematics and Fluid Dynamics from the University of Western Ontario.
An airline transport pilot with more than 4,500 hours of flying experience, including 1,800 hours as a flight instructor, Tryggvason was active in aerobatics and completed a captain’s examination in a jet trainer with the Canadian Air Force. Before becoming an astronaut, Tryggvason worked as a meteorologist in the cloud physics group at Meteorological Service Canada and as a research associate in industrial aerodynamics at the University of Western Ontario’s Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory.
In 1979 he was a visiting scholar at Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan, and in 1980 at James Cook University of North Queensland in Townsville, Australia. From 1980 to 1982 he was a lecturer in applied mathematics at the University of Western Ontario.
Tryggvason was serving as a research officer in the National Research Council of Canada’s Low Speed Aerodynamics Laboratory when the council selected him to join Roberta Bondar, Marc Garneau, Steve MacLean, Ken Money and Robert Thirsk as members of its first astronaut corps.
Before taking flight on his own mission, Tryggvason trained as a backup for the Space Shuttle Columbia’s STS-52 crew and served as project engineer for the Space Vision System Target Spacecraft, which deployed from that mission in 1992.
A year after his return from space, Tryggvason joined “The Penguins”, NASA’s 18th class of astronaut candidates selected in 1998. The two-year basic training was intended to prepare Tryggvason for possible flight as a mission specialist and was initially deployed as the crew representative of SAIL, or the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which was used to validate the flight software for each mission.
However, rather than pursue another space mission, Tryggvason left the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to work in the private sector. He returned to CSA for another four years before retiring in 2008 and subsequently becoming a visiting professor at the University of Western Ontario.
A member of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute, Tryggvason received an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Western Ontario in 1998, an Honorary Doctorate of Technology from the University of Iceland in 2000, and an Honorary Doctorate of Engineering from the University of Victoria in 2005. Received for his 1997 launch He received the NASA Space Flight Medal, the 2004 Innovators Award from the Canadian Space Agency and the Knight’s Cross of the Icelandic Order of the Falcon.
In 2003, Tryggvason and seven of his fellow Canadian astronauts were honored with postage stamps from Canada Post (opens in new tab) carry their portraits.
“Lost a good friend today,” said fellow Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield wrote on Twitter (opens in new tab). “Pioneer astronaut, engineer’s engineer, proud parents, inventor, test pilot. A kind, funny, original man.”
In February 2009, Tryggvason piloted a replica of Alexander Graham Bell’s Silver Dart aircraft to celebrate the centenary of the first flight in Canada and the British Empire.
More recently, Tryggvason designed the science demonstrations to accompany the Story Time from Space educational payload (opens in new tab) aboard the International Space Station and served as technical advisor for the Roland Emmerich feature film Moonfall, (opens in new tab) which was released earlier this year. He authored 50 published articles and held three patents.
Tryggvason is survived by his two adult children, Michael Kristjan and Lauren Stephanie Chironne. He was previously married to Lilyanna Zmijak but the couple divorced.
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