If former astronaut Marc Garneau has his way, Canada will soon become an important partner in several upcoming Mars missions. Garneau would also like to see Canada become a leader in several new space technology fields as well.
Next Friday, Garneau, who is now President of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), will define this vision to an audience at the University of Toronto. He will further refine this vision in November when the CSA will host its fourth space exploration workshop. The primary goal of the workshop is to challenge Canadian scientists to come up with scientific payloads for Mars.
Garneau is an extremely popular figure in Canada. This became rather obvious this year on Canada Day when he preceded the Prime Minister at festivities in Ottawa. A crowd of over 100,000 people gave him a large ovation. Seizing the moment, Garneau briefly talked about his vision for Canada’s space program, telling the gathered and national television audience that Canada’s next target is Mars. No mincing of words: he was quite direct.
While Garneau is now being very direct about his vision, he has been quietly building his case for some time. His theme has been that Canada’s investments in space science and technology have been beneficial to both Canadians and the world’s population in general.
There is no doubt that Canadians have reaped the rewards of its space investments. One need only look back in time to 1962 when Canada launched Alouette-1. That launch ignited an industry in Canada that today continues with the highly successful Radarsat program.
Of course, Garneau’s vision very much depends on the CSA getting a boost in its budget. It is only in the last few years that the CSA has had a stable annual budget of approximately $300 million (CDN). That’s less than 2.5% of the annual U.S. space budget.
A potential source of help to Garneau could be the upcoming change in leadership in Canada. It now appears that although the Prime Minister will not step down until February of 2004, the Liberal party may hold their leadership vote in late 2003. A new leader will undoubtedly call an election not too long after the Prime Minister resigns. Leading up to the next election we should see increased spending by the government.
As such, the question is: will Garneau have sucessfully made his case that investing in the space program is beneficial to Canada such that he’ll get a share of this budget increase?