This week in space for Canada is all about celebrating the final return of the last Canadian scheduled to go into space for at least the next five years, contemplating what the future might hold and maybe, just maybe making plans to help mold that future into something useful.
First of all, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Flight Engineer Robert Thirsk along with mission commander Roman Romanenko and ESA astronaut/ outgoing ISS commander Frank De Winne returns to Earth this week aboard the Soyuz TMA-15 space craft.
It’s well known by readers of recent stories on SpaceRef Canada that Thirsk has had one of the more memorable trips into orbit being the first Canadian to launch and return on a Soyuz craft with the first European commander of the International Space Station (De Winne) and being the first Canadian astronaut to be visited by other Canadians while in space (CSA chief astronaut Julie Payette and space tourist/ entrepreneur Guy Lalibert).
It’s less well known (although perhaps just as important) that his orbital studies of the long-term effects of zero gravity will contribute greatly to the future understanding of space station living and orbital medicine.
In total, nine Canadian astronauts have participated in 13 NASA manned missions and two Soyuz missions which means, at least according to this Wikipedia list of space travellers by nationality that Canada is number four on the list.
This really isn’t bad for a small country without its own launch capability.
But although the CSA has recently expanded its active astronaut roster (with the addition of Canadian Forces fighter pilot Jeremy Hansen and medical doctor David Saint-Jacques) there are simply no plans whatsoever for any further Canadian manned flights for at least the next five years and only the most vague and tentative suggestions of plans for any future manned Canadian flights at the conclusion of this period.
Let me restate this last point again with added emphasis. There are no plans whatsoever for any further Canadian manned flights for at least the next five years and only the most vague and tentative suggestions of further plans for Canadian crewed manned flights at the conclusion of this period.
We have just finished up the first golden age of Canadian manned spaceflight. It’s unfortunate, but this could be as good as it’s gonna get!
This “milestone,” for lack of a better word, is one of the reasons why the CSA, the Canadian Forces (CF) and others have recently begun running “idea” flags up hypothetical flagpoles during public and private forums (as the CF did at the recent Canadian Space Summit described in my November 20th, 2009 “This Week in Space for Canada” post).
It’s also at least part of the reason (along with the chance to make lots of money) for why Canadian satellite component manufacturers such as Com Dev and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) have been expanding their capabilities as discussed in the recent article “Canadian Component Builders “Moving Up the Food Chain” to Build Complete Satellites.”
In essence, the CSA, the CF and the various Canadian based but space focused businesses don’t want the good times to end and they’re looking for new and useful roles. They’re coming at it from unique angles with different methodologies and ideas concerning where to focus and not all the ideas will end up being adapted but the stage is being set for a fascinating semi-public discussion.
Why will this not be a public discussion?
It could eventually turn into one especially should any of the proposed solutions require some sort of political action. But that won’t happen for a little while and the snippets of discussions that do surface in the mass media likely won’t stay visible for long because of the complexity of the issues and the lack of dedicated and knowledgeable science writers able to summarize and clarify the discussions.
My best guess is that various innovative ideas will be trotted out by a variety of experts representing multiple organizations at a number of public and private forums (including SpaceRef Canada) over the next little while.
It’s quite likely that these various organizations and their members are hoping that this week in space for Canada is not the final last hurrah for Canada in space.
With a little bit of luck, they might be working towards practical, space focused tools to inventory our natural resources, expand our communications capabilities, protect our arctic sovereignty, reinvigorate our economic infrastructure and create new manufacturing mechanisms, processes and materials to benefit the Canadian economy.
Maybe we could even start sending Canadian’s back into space.
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.