By Agence France-Presse
Former astronaut Julie Payette, the first Canadian to travel to the International Space Station, was named Thursday as Canada’s next governor general, the official representative of Queen Elizabeth II.
Payette, 53, begins largely ceremonial role representing Canada’s nominal head of state in September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced.
Payette first traveled to the ISS in 1999 aboard the US space shuttle Discovery, then 10 years later aboard the Endeavour.
She also speaks six languages, has played piano with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and is a licensed commercial pilot and deep-sea diver.
The former astronaut will succeed David Johnston, who has held the position for seven years.
Payette was chosen for the Canadian space program in 1992, one of four successful applicants from among 5,330 candidates.
She served for seven years as Canada’s chief astronaut and retired from the space agency in 2013.
Payette will be the fourth woman to represent the British queen and will occupy stately Rideau Hall, the governor general’s official residence in Ottawa.
The last woman in the post, Michaelle Jean, held the job 2005-2010. She saluted Payette’s nomination on Twitter, calling it “an enlighted choice for the country she observed from space.”
In making the nomination Trudeau maintained the tradition of alternating the post between French and English speakers.
Some leaders of Canada’s indigenous people had called on Trudeau to nominate one of their own to the post, in the name of the national reconciliation Trudeau is calling for.
The governor general’s duties include ensuring that Canada always has a stable government in place; swearing in the prime minister and cabinet ministers; signing official documents, and meeting regularly with the prime minister.
The position normally has a five-year term, but is at the queen’s discretion.