Canada�s space program is nearing
a turning point as it enters its fifth decade. Much of the communications
satellite work that the government supported in the past has gone to the private
sector, the equipment Canada built for the International Space Station is now on
orbit or ready to fly, and Canada is about to launch its first scientific
satellites since 1971.
Marc Garneau, the former astronaut who now heads the Canadian Space Agency, has
proposed a new direction for Canada in space: towards Mars. Canadian firms built
some equipment for NASA that went to Mars in 1997 on the Mars Pathfinder
mission, and a Canadian experiment is supposed to arrive at Mars early next year
on the Japanese Nozomi spacecraft.
Garneau wants Canada to take part in upcoming NASA and European Mars exploration
efforts, and perhaps one day include Canadians in human expeditions to the Red
To start off, he proposed that Canada spend about $200 million to supply
drilling and sampling equipment aboard a Mars lander that NASA hopes to launch
late in this decade. Unfortunately, the Canadian government turned the proposal
It is very unfortunate that the federal government has rejected this proposal,
which would help keep Canada in the front ranks of space-faring nations and
provide work that builds on our successes with space robotics on the Canadarm.
While the federal government deserves criticism for this decision, it should be
tempered with the knowledge that this government has been more generous with
technology and scientific research than its predecessors, and it deserves praise
for proceeding with some important astronomical research.
But Canada needs to give stronger support to astronomy, space research and space
exploration than it does at present.
What is more interesting about this situation is that it has been almost totally
ignored by Canadian media. While Garneau�s original proposal to go to Mars got
some coverage, the only information I have seen about the rejection of his
spending proposals is in American media.
It will be up to people like us to work even harder to put astronomy and space
on Canadians� radar screens, and to put pressure on the federal government to
give greater support to space research.