The Backbencher; Taking all of the mindless psychobabble that comes out of the House of Commons, and providing critical analysis on the important bits.
13 million to 1. Those are the odds of becoming an astronaut. Somehow, Canadian Commander Chris Hadfield managed to beat them and in March became the first ever Canadian to command the International Space Station. It’s ironic then that as Hadfield reaches the pinnacle of his career and Canadians burst with pride, our space program is ominously headed down a path to oblivion.
The aerospace situation in Canada is indeed rather bleak. When it comes to funding, the Canadian Space Agency receives a measly 0.15% of Canadian government expenditures. Compare the CSA to NASA, and you’ll find that the American agency receives 41 times the budget the CSA does. Worse yet, a majority of the funding which is allocated is directed towards government mandated programs such as the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative or as I like to call it, the “Keep the Russians out of the Arctic, we know the Cold war ended 24 years ago but you can never be too safe? Initiative”. So as the Canada’s top minds sigh and wonder how they’ve been reduced to operating a 620 million dollar Eye of Sauron to watch over the Arctic, I myself lament the government’s approach to the Canadian Space Agency.
Though you would be right in saying there has been a steady stream of Canadian astronauts going to space in recent years, it is actually misleading. As a result of our contributions to constructing the International Space Station, most notably with the CanadaArm, NASA compensated the CSA by providing credits for free missions to space. However, as Hadfield blasted off in December en route to the ISS, the CSA used up its final credit and with no funding allocation directed towards sending future astronauts to space, the intrepid and mustachioed Hadfield may be the last Canadian astronaut to make the journey. The fact that the government uses the CSA as an extension of the Department of Defense is not only tragic but also maddeningly contradictory to its goal of growing the economy.
Investing in aerospace creates innovation and a trickle down effect to other industries such as automotive, aviation and engineering. A more robust Aerospace program also has the power to inspire young kids to pursue programs in the hard sciences, and create a highly skilled and educated labour force for the future. Hadfield himself was 9 years old when he saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, and explained that “it was at that moment that I decided to make space travel my life’s mission”. But why inspire a generation when you can look through ice for Russian submarines right?
The government is to blame on this issue but opposing members of the House are also to blame for failing to hold the government to account. Dig through House debates from the last 12 months and you’ll find that the Canadian Space Agency is mentioned less than 10 times. Looking for a bill pertaining to our Space program? You’ll have to dig back to 2005. Our legislature has utterly failed in defending a government agency which is meant to be the at the cutting edge of scientific research and aeronautic engineering. To see the the government suffocating the CSA with it’s ideological bag is hardly surprising, but to see opposing members of the issue nowhere in sight is seriously troubling.
For now the agency has to make do with what it’s got, and aside from hoping that the screaming heads down on earth’s parliament can pull themselves together, instead maybe Mr. Hadfield ought to peek out his window in search for a shooting star. For the sake of Canada’s space program, let’s hope he sees one.
(Featured photo: nasa hq photo, Creative Commons, Flickr)
(Article photo 1: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Creative Commons, Flickr)
(Article photo 2: NASA Goddard Photo and Video, Creative Commons, Flickr)