Throughout history, people have looked up to the skies above and dreamed of flying amongst the stars.

Very few, though, have had the privilege of suiting up and calling themselves astronauts. 

Calgarian Jenni Gibbons is one of those who can officially put "astronaut" on their resume.

"I am a Canadian Space Agency astronaut, but it's also not exactly straightforward," explains Astronaut Jenni Gibbons. "Because I spend almost all of my time at NASA at the Johnson Space Centre. We're here as part of an international partnership, but my employer is the Canadian Space Agency."

But what was it that caused Gibbons to pursue a career amongst the stars?

"Well, in Canada, as you know, we're so fortunate that we have so many role models to look up to who are involved in exploration or science and technology, in particular, we have these amazing astronauts. The first couple of cohorts that were selected by Canada to go on missions on the space shuttle, like Marc Garneau and Roberta Bondar and [Julie Payette]," says Gibbons. "I have very early memories of my mum emphasizing how important a mission like Roberta Bondar's was and we had these people to look up to. And it was a mechanism by which we could learn about the world around us."

Gibbons also attributes it to growing up in Calgary and experiencing the beauty that surrounds us.

"It's just so easy to experience the natural wonder of our country and look up at the night sky and wonder what's beyond it,"  Gibbon says. "And I think I really benefitted from the big picture that that brought me. So I think passion for being outside and exploring what's around me paired with the understanding that it's possible, because we have these great role models who have already done it, really impacted me and made me want to become an astronaut."

Gibbons eventually moved to Montreal to attend McGill University where she earned an undergrad in mechanical engineering.

"I was always really interested in combustion science. I mean, early on it was just thermodynamics to me, I didn't really know much about the details," Gibbons explains. "But, as soon as we started studying engines and I learned that there was still so much we didn't know about combustion and how to use it. I was really fascinated by that."

After she completed her undergrad, she went to the University of Cambridge to complete her Ph.D., where she specialized in combustion.

Then, in 2016, the Canadian Space Agency announced that they were recruiting astronauts, so Gibbons applied.

"Oh! The selection process was so cool!" says Gibbons. "That was a wonderful part of my job and really one of my beginnings at the Space Agency." 

"To give you the basics of the recruitment process, it was a year-long process, during which the Space Agency tests everything. I mean, they learn your medical history, they test you psychologically, they stress you out, they want to learn everything about you and just see how you perform under pressure. See how you perform in a group and see how you can solve problems," Gibbons says.

Then at the end of that year came a final medical test and interview.

"By the time that it was the summer of 2017, I was packing up and moving to Huston after being selected along with Josh Kutryk."

After doing two years of basic astronaut training, where you become prepared to fly a mission, Gibbons says that quite often their first roles are on the ground.

Gibbons was selected to be a backup astronaut for the Artemis II mission, which will make history next year.

"I am backing up Jeremy Hensen, who is on the prime crew," explains Gibbons. "My job is, pretty much, to support the prime crew in any capacity that they need it. If there is a situation where Jeremy could not fly, I would fly to ensure Canada has a seat on that mission."

She is also involved with the development and the logistics of the mission.

During the mission, Gibbons will be a Capsule Communicator.

"That means that while Jeremy and his crew are on the capsule, doing the Lunar flyby and whatever other phase of flight, whether it's a transit or a test or a burn or even the turn, there will be someone in Mission Control communicating with the capsule. And I will be one of those people," Gibbons says.

While she has done this role for the International Space Station, she says that being part of this unique of a mission is an incredible opportunity.

The Artemis II mission will see people returning to the moon for the first time in over 50 years and will happen no earlier than autumn 2025. 

"Which is really amazing, but it's also very challenging. So, we're developing all of the procedures and the infrastructure and the logistics that we're going to need to do this mission, the lunar flyby, and test all of the software and hardware on this spacecraft. But, we're also preparing to land on the moon again. So, I do a lot of testing and preparation and act as a crew member for all sorts of simulations to prepare the ground team for the actual upcoming mission," Gibbons explains.

While this crew won't actually set foot on the moon, they will still be making history.

Artemis II is a ten-day mission, where they will initially orbit the Earth several times to test out the systems aboard the Orion spacecraft as well as build up enough speed to make it to the Moon.

"And then the capsule will go further out and do a Lunar flyby. They will actually go further than any human has ever gone from Earth before, and they'll come back. And they'll test all of the systems that they need on that spacecraft in order to move to the next phase of the Artemis program, which are going to be, eventually, Lunar landings," Gibbons says.

The Orion Spacecraft and its crew will travel approximately 4600 miles past the far side of the moon.

While there won't be a landing module on this mission, they will be testing all of the systems that will be required for longer space flights.

"There's a lot of reasons for doing this. The most fundamental reason is it's in our nature to explore and we learn an enormous amount when we do so. The problems that we are solving by going to outer space, and even going to lower Earth orbit to someplace like the International Space Station, we just learn so much about technology required to keep people alive and to push forward, make our own technologies on Earth more efficient," explains Gibbons. "Everything that came out of the Apollo program, I mean, that's really the reason why we all have a phone in our pocket."

Gibbons says that there is a tremendous amount we still need to learn, not only about space flight but also how to help people on Earth.

"Great example is Mars. The idea of sending people to Mars and what that will bring us, we're going to have to address problems like more advanced and efficient propulsion systems, energy generation and preservation. How do we store energy? How do we develop medical kits to keep people alive in remote regions? That's a really important question for people here on Earth. How do we develop and maintain and get nutritious food for astronauts? Similarly, how do we provide that for populations here on Earth?" Gibbons says.

Gibbons adds that this trip and future trips to the moon, as well as the eventual trip to Mars, will help us to learn to improve life here on Earth.