The Canadian space sector has a world-class reputation in various areas. It has been on the scene for a long time and has built impressive high-quality hardware.
Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who was the first Canadian to walk in space, wrote an article in a leading newspaper which said the country was winning the space race.
Canada has been in the game longer than anyone apart from the Soviet Union (Russia) and the United States, he wrote. The country has sent a significant number of astronauts to space and the close relationship with NASA has been an asset. Bob Thirsk was our first to go up into space and lived up there for almost six months and holds the Canadian record for the longest space flight, and he was later followed by Chris Hadfield.
Chris Hadfield, in his article, also touched upon his views on the privatisation of the space industry. “The big deal is who the customer is, and it has always been governments,” he said adding “Elon Musk is the same as Boeing or Howard Hughes—a government contractor.”
The new thing would be finding customers besides a government. In a human space flight, it has only been Russia which has been able to fly private citizens to space. However, now Richard Branson is looking to make a business of private space travel for the price of a luxury car. The market for this could be more significant than it seems.
Politics also plays a significant role in many significant projects being killed over the years, Hadfield said. “How do you sustain funding for something for two-and-a-half political cycles? You need to tie the program to something larger than politics somehow.” He wrote. The only way to deal with the issue is through an international, intergovernmental agreement that each country’s politics can’t back out of.
The country’s logical next step is to reach the moon; China is taking the endeavour seriously and is using all technology available to catch-up. It has already landed a rover in space. Russia too is already working closely with the Chinese in this endeavour. An international consortium to put a human base on the moon would make a big difference.
However, according to experts, including Hadfield, Canada has to deal with many problems before it reaches the moon. We need to decide whether we are going to become experts in fuel cells, navigation, power generation, radiation protection or communication. There is also crew training to deal with. The project has a long term schedule; it is a 50-year project and is a recognisable part of Canadian technology for the world.
Hadfield’s reason for why Canadians don’t trumpet their space achievements more is a touching one. “It’s not our nature, and maybe it’s part of how we’ve been so successful because we don’t spend time trumpeting it; we spend time actually doing it.” He said.