Birch Island girl’s image of the Earth bound for International Space Station

Heading to the final frontier. Shawanosowe School Grade 5 student Violet Sutherland (centre, above her poster) and her family, father Greg, seated, left, and clockwise, sister Avery, friend Mckenna, brother Myles and mom Mariette McGregor are all smiles as Canada’s soon-to-be 11th astronaut Mark Pathy and his wife Jess hold the poster that Mr. Pathy will be taking with him on his trip into space. Mr. Pathy will be making history as a member of the first all-private mission team to the International Space Station. photo by Michael Erskine

LITTLE CURRENT – A creative piece of Manitoulin will be headed to space this winter thanks to Violet Sutherland, 10, of Whitefish River First Nation after the Grade 5 Shawanosowe School student’s poster took top honours in a Royal Canadian Geographical Society contest.  

Mission specialist, entrepreneur and Canada’s soon-to-be newest astronaut Mark Pathy and his wife Jess came to the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre last Friday to accept the poster and to learn more about the symbolism and meaning behind Violet’s winning entry.

“Mark is doing Earth observation captures for us as part of a large project dealing with the Great Lakes,” said Charlene Bearhead, director of reconciliation with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society before the presentation. Mr. Pathy’s work will help inform Canada, and the world, by providing data on important facets of the Great Lake’s health and status.

“This is great; anything we can do to improve our relationships is important,” said Whitefish River First Nation Chief Shining Turtle. “I am happy to play a small part in this, but it is really Pat Madahbee who has really connected the dots on this—and to Violet, for her great work and effort. This is wonderful to see and I am just so pleased to be just a small part of it.”

I played my little part,” laughed Mr. Madahbee, downplaying his contribution. “I had noticed that Wiikwemkoong and Showanosowe have really done some incredible work with their robotics programs and environmental initiatives. The work of the water walkers, young people like Autumn Peltier and elders like her late aunt Josephine Mandamin, all the pieces pointed to these two schools. I just made a couple of connections.”

“I got the idea, (for my poster) of making an Earth, from my friend,” said Violet, providing full disclosure of her initial inspiration for her image of our planet. “I didn’t copy her Earth though, I just copied the circle and made my own Earth.”

Violet clearly captured the hearts and full attention of Mr. Pathy and his wife as the Shawanosowe School student explained the details behind the symbolism and figures on her poster under the doting gaze of her parents Mariette and Greg Sutherland, and siblings as they sat in front of the fireplace in the hotel lobby.

Mr. Pathy express the hope that a virtual connection can be made with Violet and her classmates at Shawanosowe School. “Hopefully, we will be able to connect from space,” he said, carefully adding a caveat, “There are challenges with the timing and times zones and all that.”

Mr. Pathy told The Expositor that he will be spending 10 days in space, eight on board the International Space Station and one day each travelling back and forth. He has spent several months undergoing training and study to prepare for the trip.

“This will be the first private crew to head to the space station,” Mr. Pathy shared. He will be the sole Canadian on the crew, making him the eleventh Canadian astronaut. Mr. Pathy will be collaborating with both the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and Montreal’s Children’s Hospital along with a number of Canadian universities during the mission, taking on the role of mission specialist on the first-ever entirely private mission to the International Space Station.

Asked what prerequisite was required to secure the spot on the team, Mr. Pathy deadpanned, “money.” The well-known Canadian businessman and philanthropist ponied up a cool $50USD million (roughly $63,263,000CAN) for his seat on the Axion mission.

As CEO and chairman of investment firm MAVRiK, as well as chairman of the board of Stingray (a music and media tech company), Mr. Pathy is one of a handful of wealthy individuals acting as pioneers in the new frontier of the commercialization of space. 

“Space travel has been a lifelong dream and I’m thrilled to be joining my fellow crew members for this historic first,” he said. “I also look forward to dedicating some of my time on this mission to health research.” His collaboration with the Montreal Children’s Hospital will identify research projects that could be undertaken during the Ax-1 mission.

“We thought that it would be an interesting addition to hold a poster contest with students in Indigenous schools around the Great Lakes region,” he said. He will be taking the poster aloft with him on his trip to the ISS. 

Will Violet be getting her poster back? “Absolutely,” committed Mr. Pathy.

He explained that the Axiom had contracted SpaceX (Elon Musk’s satellite delivery business) to provide the transportation and contracted with NASA for the eight day stay on the space station. 

Money wasn’t the only commitment Mr. Pathy had to make as this will be a true busman’s holiday and he has been in intensive training for his role for four months in Houston, Texas at NASA’s training facilities there and in California at SpaceX’s facilities. “Most of it around emergency response,” he said.

Asked by Violet if he was nervous, Mr. Pathy said that he really hadn’t had a lot of time to get nervous or scared and the trip was still some way off. But he admitted he might feel a little trepidation when the countdown begins.

Violet’s parents, Greg Sutherland and Mariette McGregor, watched proudly as their daughter presented Mr. Pathy with several gifts, including a painting by Little Current Anishinaabe artist Duncan Pheasant, along with a signed interpretation of the symbolism in the work written by the artist himself.

Upon arriving at the hotel lobby, Mr. Pathy and his wife Jess presented Chief Shining Turtle and elder Stephen Pelletier with tobacco and cloth, and were then greeted with a ceremony that included a smudge, drumming and an honour song. Elder Pelletier also provided a short teaching to the astronaut and his wife.

The other astronauts who will be joining Mr. Pathy on the historic private mission include commander and former NASA astronaut Micheal López-Alegría, as well as Israeli Eytan Stibbe and American Larry Connor. Mr. López-is a true space veteran, having already been to space four times, the last time visiting the ISS in 2007. The team is expected to go aloft sometime in January.