Julie Payette

Governor General of Canada Elizabeth II Canadian Space Agency
Infinite Construction - STEAM

Julie Payette

Julie Payette in Ottawa in 2017
29th Governor General of Canada
Assumed office
October 2, 2017
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau
Preceded byDavid Johnston
Personal details
Born (1963-10-20) October 20, 1963 (age 56)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
François Brissette
(m. 1992; div. 1999)

William Flynn
(m. 2001; div. 2015)
ChildrenLaurier Flynn-Payette
ResidenceRideau Hall
Alma materMcGill University (BEng)
University of Toronto (MASc)
Space career
CSA astronaut
Time in space
25 days 11 h 57 min
Selection1992 CSA Group
MissionsSTS-96, STS-127
Mission insignia
Sts-96-patch.svg STS-127 Patch.svg

Julie Payette CC CMM COM CQ CD (French pronunciation: ​[ʒyli pajɛt]; born October 20, 1963) is a Canadian engineer, scientist and former astronaut who has been governor general of Canada since 2017, the 29th officeholder since Canadian Confederation.[1][2][3]

Payette holds engineering degrees from McGill University and the University of Toronto. She worked as a research scientist before joining the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in 1992 as a member of the Canadian Astronaut Corps. She completed two spaceflights, STS-96 and STS-127, and has logged more than 25 days in space. She also served as capsule communicator at NASA Mission Control Center in Houston and from 2000 to 2007 as CSA's chief astronaut.

In July 2013, Payette was named chief operating officer for the Montreal Science Centre. She also held a number of board appointments, including the National Bank of Canada.[4] On July 13, 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Queen Elizabeth II had approved the appointment of Payette as the next governor general of Canada.[1][2][5] She was sworn in on October 2, 2017.[6]

Education and early career

Payette was born on October 20, 1963, in Montreal, Quebec,[7] and lived in the Ahuntsic neighbourhood, attending Collège Mont-Saint-Louis and Collège Regina Assumpta.[8][9] In 1982 she completed an International Baccalaureate diploma at the United World College of the Atlantic in South Wales, United Kingdom.[10]

For her undergraduate studies, Payette enrolled in McGill University where she completed a Bachelor of Engineering degree in electrical engineering in 1986, after which she completed a Master of Applied Science degree in computer engineering at the University of Toronto in 1990. Her thesis focused on computational linguistics, a field of artificial intelligence.[8][11][12] She is a retired member of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec.[13][14]

During her schooling, between 1986 and 1988, Payette also worked as a systems engineer for IBM Canada's Science Engineering division. From 1988 to 1990, as a graduate student at the University of Toronto, she was involved in a high-performance computer architecture project and worked as a teaching assistant. At the beginning of 1991, Payette joined the communications and science department of the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory in Switzerland, for a one-year visiting scientist appointment. When she returned to Canada, in January 1992, she joined the Speech Research Group of Bell-Northern Research in Montreal where she was responsible for a project in telephone speech comprehension using computer voice recognition.[15]

Canadian Space Agency

Payette's official portrait from STS-96

Payette was selected by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as one of four astronauts from a field of 5,330 applicants in June 1992. After undergoing basic training in Canada, she worked as a technical advisor for the Mobile Servicing System, an advanced robotics system and Canada's contribution to the International Space Station.[14] In 1993, Payette established the Human-Computer Interaction Group at the Canadian Astronaut Program and served as a technical specialist on the NATO International Research Study Group on speech processing.

In preparation for a space assignment, Payette obtained her commercial pilot licence and logged 120 hours as a research operator on reduced gravity aircraft. In April 1996, Payette was certified as a one-atmosphere deep sea diving suit operator. Payette obtained her captaincy on the CT-114 Tutor military jet at CFB Moose Jaw in February 1996 and her military instrument rating in 1997. Payette has logged more than 1,300 hours of flight time,[11] including 600 hours on high-performance jet aircraft.

Payette reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1996 to begin mission specialist training. After completing one year of training, she was assigned to work on the Mobile Servicing System.[16] Payette completed the initial astronaut training in April 1998.[17]

Spaceflight experience

Payette aboard the Kibo laboratory of the International Space Station during STS-127

Payette served as chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency from 2000 to 2007. She also worked as capsule communicator at the Mission Control Center in Houston for several years, including the return to flight mission STS-114. She was lead capsule communicator during STS-121.[11]


Payette flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery from May 27 to June 6, 1999, as part of the crew of STS-96. During the mission, the crew performed the first manual docking of the shuttle to the International Space Station, and delivered four tons of logistics and supplies to the station. On Discovery, Payette served as a mission specialist. Her main responsibility was to operate the Canadarm robotic arm from the space station.[18] The STS-96 mission was accomplished in 153 orbits of the Earth, traveling over six million kilometres (3,700,000 mi) in 9 days, 19 hours and 13 minutes. Payette became the first Canadian to participate in an ISS assembly mission and to board the Space Station.[14]


Payette visited the space station again in 2009 as a mission specialist aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour during mission STS-127 from July 15 to 31, 2009, and was the flight engineer and lead robotic operator during the mission.[19] At that time, Robert Thirsk was a member of Expedition 20 on the space station. Endeavour's docking at the space station marked the first time two Canadians met in space.[20]

During her second mission, Payette brought a signed sweater of the famed Montreal Canadiens player Maurice Richard, stating she had brought Richard, who was known as "The Rocket", into the rocket to celebrate the hockey team's 100th anniversary.[21]


Several notable Canadians, including Payette (right back), carrying the Olympic flag at the 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Vancouver

During 2010–2011, she worked at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., and was also a scientific delegate to the United States for the Quebec Government.[22] [23][24] For the next three years, Payette was CEO of the Montreal Science Centre of the Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal.[25] During that time, she was also a vice president of the Canada Lands Company.[26][27]

Payette has served on boards of directors, at Queen's University, Canada's Own the Podium Olympic program, Montreal Science Centre foundation, Robotique FIRST Québec, Drug Free Kids Canada, the Montreal Bach Festival, the National Bank of Canada, Développement Aéroport Saint-Hubert de Longueuil, and others. In about 2017, she was appointed to the International Olympic Committee's Women in Sports Commission.[24][28] She is a member of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec and a fellow of the International Academy of Astronautics. As well, Payette is a member of the Faculty of Engineering Advisory Board of McGill University.[24]

Tenure as governor general

Payette was announced on July 13, 2017, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recommendation to be the 29th Governor General of Canada. She was scheduled to take office October 2, 2017, after the completion of briefings from the incumbent, David Johnston.[29] After the announcement was made, Johnston issued a statement congratulating Payette and welcoming "a Canadian of extraordinary achievement, admired by all".[30]

As governor general-designate, Payette had her first official meeting with Queen Elizabeth II on September 20, 2017, at Balmoral Castle, when she was also invested by Her Majesty as an extraordinary Companion of the Order of Canada (CC), an extraordinary Commander of the Order of Military Merit (CMM), and a Commander of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces (COM).[31]

Payette was installed as governor general on October 2, 2017. Afterwards, she urged Canadians to work together on issues such as climate change, migration and poverty. "Anyone can accomplish anything and rise to the challenge as long as they are willing to work with others, to let go of the personal agenda, to reach a higher goal and to do what is right for the common good. This is exactly what I hope my mandate as the governor-general will reflect", Payette said.[32]

Reevaluating the role of governor general

As she was completing her first year as the viceregal representative in September 2018, Payette faced some criticism about controversial comments she had made against those who believe in creationism and those who did not believe in climate change. At the Canadian Science Policy Conference the next month, she argued strongly for greater public acceptance of science, saying that too many people believe in astrology, deny climate change, and believe that "maybe taking a sugar pill will cure cancer".[33] Committee for Skeptical Inquiry concerning climate change, commented that her remarks were "refreshing". George Dvorsky from Gizmodo.org stated "Her words were a breath of fresh air".[34]

In subsequent comments, Payette emphasized the importance of debate and critical thinking but admitted that she was still growing into her role and needed more time to adapt to the position. "I learned that you have to be careful about how you say things, but not what you say", she added.[35] Some time later, she offered an additional explanation to CPAC. "I made a speech as I had as an astronaut and I'm not an astronaut any longer, I'm governor general. I represent all Canadians. I've learned those lessons."[36]

Weeks later, she faced criticism about her work ethic, with some suggesting that she had not devoted enough time and dedication to the role of governor general and had not visited several of the provinces in her nearly 12-month tenure.[36] The Toronto Star published specifics confirming the more numerous appearances her two predecessors had made per year.[37] Rideau Hall spokesperson Marie-Ève Létourneau said that "The first year of every mandate is a period of learning, adjustment and adaptation from both the Governor General and Rideau Hall staff."[38]

Later in September, the Governor General's office confirmed that Payette would not preside over the 2018 Governor General's History Awards ceremony.[39]

On September 27, Payette acknowledged the articles that had painted an "unfavourable image of our work" in an e-mail to staff, expressed regret about the effect of the criticisms on morale, and assured them that she was "very proud of all we have achieved together to date".[36]

Allegations of abuse

On July 21, 2020, CBC News reported that Payette had allegedly created a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall by verbally abusing employees.[40] Two days later, spurred on by the CBC News report, the Privy Council Office formally launched an investigation into her conduct.[41] Multiple former employees of the Montreal Science Center told the National Post they witnessed similarly abusive behaviour by Payette in her time at the institution, although others described her behaviour as the result of rigorously high standards.[42]

Personal life

Payette was married twice, first to François Brissette in the 1990s,[43] and secondly to William Flynn, with whom she had a son in 2003,[44] and from whom she divorced in 2015.[45] She is fluent in French (her mother tongue) and English, and can converse in Spanish, German, Italian and Russian. Payette plays the piano and has sung with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Tafelmusik Chamber Choir.[46] Currently, she sings with the Ottawa Bach Choir.[47] Among her other hobbies are running, skiing, racquet sports, and scuba diving.[14]

Payette was charged with second degree assault in Maryland, on November 24, 2011. At least one anonymously quoted source has alleged that the victim of the assault was her then-husband, Billie Flynn. Though the charges were later dropped, the couple split several weeks later and subsequently divorced. Payette has stated that charges were "unfounded" but refused to comment further on the circumstances leading to her being charged with assault.[48]

Titles, styles, honours, and arms


Viceregal styles of
Julie Payette
Badge of the Governor-General of Canada.svg
Reference styleHer Excellency the Right Honourable
Son Excellence la très honorable
Spoken styleYour Excellency
Votre Excellence


Ribbon bars of Julie Payette
Astronaut, RCAF.svg
CAN Order of Canada Companion ribbon.svgCAN Order of Military Merit Commander ribbon.svgCAN Order of Merit of the Police Forces Commander ribbon.svg
Order of St John (UK) ribbon -vector.svgCAN National Order of Quebec Knight.svgQEII Diamond Jubilee Medal ribbon.svg
CAN Canadian Forces Decoration ribbon.svgOrdre de la Pléiade (Francophonie).gifUSA - NASA Excep Rib.png



Foreign honours

Honorary military appointments

Honorary degrees

Payette holds 28 honorary doctorates,[58] Some of the honorary degrees she has received:

Honorific eponyms


Other honours

Payette assisted in the carrying of the Olympic flag in the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Coat of arms of Julie Payette
Julie Payette full heraldic achievement.svg
A musical stave bearing the first notes of the second movement of Alessandro Marcello's Oboe Concerto in D minor Sable;
Per pale Azure and Sable a wing and in the canton the Royal Crown Argent
Two lynx Sable embellished Argent, each wearing a collar set with laurel leaves Or and mullets Argent, standing on the planet Earth Azure, its atmosphere Argent, charged with the Greek letter sigma (Σ) Argent
PER ASPERA AD ASTRA (Through Hardship to the Stars)[89]
The ribbon and insignia of the Order of Canada; the ribbon and insignia of the National Order of Quebec


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