Swansea University has awarded an honorary degree to Welsh-Canadian astronaut and physician, Dr Dafydd Rhys Williams.
Dr Williams was presented with the honorary doctorate today (26 July) during the degree ceremony for the College of Science.
Dr Williams grew up in Quebec, but his father was born and raised in Bargoed in the Rhymney Valley. Dafydd Williams attributes his sense of adventure to his parents and in particular to his father, who was fascinated with aviation and human spaceflight; his mother, a theatre nurse, inspired him to later become a leading physician.
He obtained a Bachelor degree in biology, a Master’s in physiology, Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery from McGill University in Montreal. He is a specialist in neurology, emergency medicine, and trauma, and has been an emergency physician at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto; medical director at Westmount Urgent Care Clinic, Ontario; and Professor of Surgery at the Universities of Toronto and McGill.
In 1992, The Canadian Space Agency chose him as one of only four from a field of 5330 candidates to begin astronaut training, and in 1995, he was selected to join the international class of NASA mission specialists and moved to the Johnson Space Centre in Houston to train.
He has flown in space twice. First, in 1998 on board Space Shuttle Columbia, STS-90, as a mission specialist in neuroscience. Then, in 2007, on board Endeavour, STS 118 where he helped build the international space station.
He became the first non-American to hold a Director position at the Johnson Space Centre, when he was appointed Director of Space and Life Sciences at Houston, and then Deputy Associate Administrator of Spaceflight at NASA Headquarters.
Presenting his award, Ms Elin Rhys, who has an honorary award from Swansea University herself, said: “Dafydd Rhys Williams is a Welsh Ambassador, and has carried our flag further than anyone else. He was seen in space on television displaying Welsh memorabilia and speaking the language of Heaven – always proud of his Welsh heritage and keen to ensure that young people in Wales can look to the stars, believing that they too can defy limits and aim high.”
On receiving his honorary award, Dr Williams said: “Mae'n anrhydedd mawr derbyn gradd er anrhydedd gan Brifysgol Abertawe. My father would be very proud to know that his son took the Welsh flag with him on both of his spaceflights and had a chance to say a few words in Welsh from space. It is lovely to be back in Wales, a beautiful country that I love to explore to learn more about my heritage. Please accept my sincerest thanks for conferring upon me an Honorary Degree of the University.”