Canadian Astronaut to Visit Campus

March 24, 2008 - News Release

Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean will help talk about rocks at the University of Guelph this week - but not space rocks.

MacLean, chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency, will visit U of G Wednesday to speak to geology students. He and retired professor Peter van Straaten of the Department of Land Resource Science will talk about a two-week trip they took to the East African country two decades ago for a then-fledgling research project that helps improve livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Tanzania.

Their joint lecture on high-tech remote sensing for low-tech farming will take place from 12:30 to 1:20 p.m. in MacNaughton 113. The talk will occur during the regularly scheduled lecture for about 140 students in the first-year "Principles of Geology" course. Media are invited to attend the lecture, called "Tracking Rare Rocks in Tanzania: A Journey of an Astronaut and a Geologist."

MacLean will also visit U of G's Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility while he is on campus. Researchers led by Prof. Mike Dixon, chair of the Department of Environmental Biology, are studying how to grow plants as life-support systems for future moon or Mars missions.

Van Straaten met MacLean in 1987 when they visited Tanzania for the Guelph professor's "rocks for crops" project intended to help farmers use local mineral resources for fertilizing crops. During this week's lecture, they will discuss highlights of that field trip, including their use of remote-sensing data from space to help track down phosphate-containing deposits in a remote part of the country.

Van Straaten remembers meeting MacLean at the airport in Dar es Salaam and having to play doctor almost right away. The astronaut had gashed his forehead in a flight training simulator exercise a few days earlier. "One of the first things of our friendship was to take out his stitches in the bush," said van Straaten.

They've kept up that friendship since then. In 1992, van Straaten's family visited Cape Canaveral to watch MacLean's first launch aboard the space shuttle Columbia.

For his second shuttle flight, aboard Atlantis in 2006, MacLean became the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm-2 and the second Canadian to perform a spacewalk during a 12-day flight to help build the International Space Station.

He was selected as one of the first candidates for Canada's astronaut training program and began training in 1984. That's when van Straaten began his "rocks for crops" project, now involving farmers in East Africa, South America and Asia.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338,, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982,

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