Astronaut candidate's profile

The candidates participating in the astronaut selection process all have unique journeys and outstanding qualities and skills. You can read their remarkable profiles here.

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Fulford, Vanessa

Vanessa Fulford

Where were you born?
Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Where do you currently live?
Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada

Education

  • Bachelor's, space science – Royal Military College of Canada
  • Master's, flight test and evaluation – National Test Pilot School

What is your current job?

Flight Test Engineer, Royal Canadian Air Force, Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment - I work in the Fighter and Trainer Evaluations Section, primarily with the CF188 Hornet. Alongside the test pilots in my section, I work to ensure that any new equipment and software for the Hornet works correctly and safely. On the ground I plan to ensure we are prepared to collect the required data. While in the air I relay test parameters to the test pilot so they can perform the manoeuvres, while I collect data and observe aircraft reactions.

Why do you want to become an astronaut?

My motivation for becoming a Canadian astronaut is threefold. I have always hungered for discovery, learning experiences, and the knowledge that comes with each new adventure. Second, I truly believe that it is through the exploration of space that we will generate the technologies needed to further the human race. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I want to be a role model for future generations. I take pride in motivating and exciting people about the possibilities of the future and the amazing things that they can experience.

If you could pick one place to explore in our solar system where would you go?

What motivated you to study in your field?

I chose space science because I wanted to be an astronaut. Of the programs offered at the Royal Military College, space science interested me the most and was a big contributor in me deciding to join the military, as RMC was one of the few schools that offered a program of that nature.

I became a flight test engineer because I love to explore and learn. In flight test, you have the opportunity to break boundaries and be part of the team that does something for the first time, be it flying in a new configuration or a new aircraft.

Think back to a teacher who had a positive impact on your life. What did she/he do to influence you?

My grade nine science teacher had a huge impact on my life. She encouraged my passion for science, and fuelled my love of adventure by encouraging me to join our high school travel club. This club focused on adventure travel to places a little out of the ordinary; during my three years in the club I travelled to Egypt, Thailand, and Guatemala. These trips focused on adventure, like climbing active volcanos or riding camels in the desert and sleeping under the stars. Also before the trip, we spent the year learning about the language and the culture of our destinations.

What do you like best about your job?

One of the best parts of my job is flying in jets. There is no experience like it; every time I strap into the CF188 I feel the same anticipation and excitement as the engines go into afterburner and rocket us off the ground. Looking over the horizon at 40,000 feet or flying almost the speed of sound only 500 feet above the ground, every experience is exhilarating. But overall I love being part of the team that provides aerospace test and evaluation expertise and is at the forefront of supporting the operational capabilities of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Which living person do you most admire? OR Who are your heroes in real life?

Someone who I find very inspiring is one of my flight test instructors from the National Test Pilot School: Nicola Pecile. Along with a distinguished military career as a fighter pilot, he is one of the rare pilots qualified as a "dual" test pilot on both fixed and rotary test aircraft, and in August 2015 he was appointed as a pilot with Virgin Galactic. As a flight test instructor, Nicola genuinely cared that you had a clear understanding of the material, and while airborne helped make you feel confident in both your test directing and flying skills.

What is your favourite sci-fi movie?

My favourite sci-fi movie is Gattaca. As someone who wears glasses, I identified with the main character, Vincent, who is denied his dream because of his so-called "inferior genes." His way of making it into the space program isn't the most ethical, but he never gave up on his aspirations. I find it inspirational to give 100% of your effort to your dreams and not be disheartened by those who tell you that you cannot do something.

What is your motto?

For a motto I'd borrow the words "keep looking up" from Neil deGrasse Tyson (or maybe it was Snoopy?). Every time I see a jet fly by, I find myself stopping to watch it zoom past. It makes me smile to think of how amazing it is that forty thousand pounds of metal can move that fast. I find it is the same with the night stars; on a clear night, no matter how cold it is, I always stop and take a second to gaze up at the constellations, wondering what wonderful discoveries are waiting for us out there.

If you get chosen to be the next Canadian astronaut what will be the first thing you do?

What is the best career advice you've ever received?

The best career advice I've ever received was to try out to be a flight test engineer. I was a bit reluctant to apply, thinking I wasn't smart enough or tough enough. But a colleague who had been through the process encouraged me to apply, and I made it! Going through the selection process and then on to Test Pilot School taught me to have more confidence in myself and my abilities. Now instead of limiting myself I look forward to the future and am excited by the challenges and opportunities ahead.

What is your most treasured possession?

As a good Albertan I'm tempted to say my new truck… but my most treasured possession is the portable hard drive I use to back up all my photos. Most of the photos I have are from my travels and hold all the memories of the amazing adventures that I have had with my friends and family. I love to look back on them and remember all the incredible things I've been fortunate enough to experience, which always inspires me to start planning my next adventure!

What is your favourite place on Earth?

My favourite place on Earth is the beach. I love the smell of the ocean and the sounds of the waves as they crash on the beach. I prefer a tropical beach so you can also lie in the sand and enjoy the warmth of the sun. I have many fond memories of the beaches to which I've travelled around the world: learning to scuba dive, learning to surf, relaxing with friends, or watching the sun set over the waves. All the aspects of the beach just equate to happiness for me.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement so far has been graduating from Test Pilot School. It was an extremely challenging year but at the same time the greatest year of my life. The academics were interesting, the flying was incredible, and I made many talented and wonderful friends. I pushed myself to do things I didn't think that I could and gained a high level of confidence in my own abilities. To have completed the same training as many of the flight test legends, including the first astronauts, gives me an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment.

What is your favourite book?

There are too many to choose from! Some my top contenders would have to be The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and The Martian by Andy Weir. The Time Traveler's Wife appealed to me because along with the sci-fi element of time travel there was also romance, but a real romance that showed the complexity of any relationship. The Martian was also a great read—an amazing story of perseverance loaded with science but also with humour.

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