Blame Canada!
May 28, 2001 4:45 PM   Subscribe

Blame Canada! Will Canada take over the leading role in space exploration? Via Slashdot.
posted by rushmc (18 comments total)
I'm not too surprised at our friendly neighbors to the north, after all Canada was the third nation, behind the USSR and the US, to launch an orbiting satellite (at least according to the Cosmo Dome in Montreal, correct me if I'm wrong).

I'm glad at least someone is doing it, better Canada than no one. I am looking for a new apartment, by now I would think I would be looking on Mars. More power to them, I just hope more countries get in on the act so the process could go faster.
posted by Bag Man at 5:23 PM on May 28, 2001

Not likely... seems the U.S. doesn't want to go to space, with the recent cutbacks and cancellations of the shuttle replacement.

I'm just waiting for a major corporation to discover some need for space, and develop their own way to get there.
posted by SpecialK at 5:28 PM on May 28, 2001

Zubrin makes a good case that commerical discovery of space is unlikely.. he looks at the possible business scenarios and costs and they just dont add up. Not untill launch costs come down. That is the real frontier.. cheap access to space. Govts can continue to plow big money into getting stuff up there but its not helping open the frontier... the gravity well we live in is the real hurdle.
posted by stbalbach at 5:49 PM on May 28, 2001

yeah canada!
blame us if you want to.
just rememeber to look up to the sky when you do :)
posted by tiamat at 5:56 PM on May 28, 2001

Okay, so maybe it's MARS that is made of cheese... ;-)
posted by muppetboy at 6:00 PM on May 28, 2001

Where do they launch their rockets from?
posted by lagado at 6:12 PM on May 28, 2001

Not untill launch costs come down. That is the real frontier.. cheap access to space.

I suppose they could use an elevator instead.
posted by lagado at 6:15 PM on May 28, 2001

Lagado, you need to get something up there first, because the easiest way to build an elevator would be down from space.

I think businesses who have an investment in space will be the ones to invent an inexpensive way to get into space... I doubt any government will be willing to stick their neck out that way.
posted by SpecialK at 7:31 PM on May 28, 2001

Canada has little launch capability of its own beyond the Black Brant atmospheric rocket program. Canadian satellites have been put into orbit mostly by american rockets like the Delta, but the CSA isn't ideologically opposed to using ESA or other countries' facilities.

The launch provider generally gets paid off either with cash or a piece of the action; Radarsat-1, for example, was required to spend some of its time studying the Antarctic in exchange for a free ride on a Delta. People in the know I know say that the development of the "Antarctic manoeuvre" ended up costing more than any savings they may have made on launch costs.

Telesat, the leading commercial satcom company in Canada has taken to using Arianes lately; ties with the Russian Space agency have been improving as well, so a collaboration there would not be unheard of.

$US 300 million seems pretty cheap for a Mars mission, so I doubt if it will be anything revolutionary from a technical perspective. The politics are interesting though, as it could show that space technology has developed to the point where even relatively small agencies (compared to the US, European or Russian Space programs) can have an interplanetary exploration capability.
posted by cardboard at 7:56 PM on May 28, 2001

Anyone think there's any chance that this will spur the U.S. into further activities? A lesser "Space Race," if you will? Can public will be generated by playing up a sense of competition between nations?
posted by rushmc at 8:26 PM on May 28, 2001

I think the insane hyperbole surrounding space usually found at Slashdot isn't worth the time spent reading it. (One recent week began with a story about Australia pairing with Russia to maybe launch a few satellites, and the thread was 80% "NASA doesn't dare to dream anymore". Later that week, NASA announced that they planned a bold new mission to hit a comet with a projectile to study the ejecta, and the Slashdot thread -- you'd think they'd welcome NASA daring to dream, you know, seeing as how that's their major complaint -- was all about how hapless NASA was technically, seeing as how only 80% of NASA Mars missions have succeeded.)

Here we have Canada ramping up from a satellite program to add interplanetary probes, an effort that puts it a distant fifth behind Europe and Japan in the space race, and we have people like rushmc (did you steal it from /.? if so, forgiven) using phrases like "leading role". C'mon! Australia launching a few satellites means their annual effort will come close to a typical two weeks in the American satellite industry, and Canada maybe launching a single probe to Mars, whether it orbits or lands, means they're about up to where Russia was in the 1960s. (Not technically, I have nothing but praise for Canada's expertise vis-a-vis for example the station's robot arm, trolley, and hand, and can't wait to see it in action. This is all about fledgling vs. mature space programs.) India's been working on its own independent launch capability (quasi-military justification) for over a decade, and they've barely begun.

It's become clear that NASA is going to have to pull back from some of its cherished goals. Pluto-Kuiper Express ain't gonna happen, Station Hab is in jeopardy, Station Lifeboat is a distant dream. But surprisingly, this comes at a time when several other nations are showing renewed interest. It's not at all surprising that space continues to beckon, and the more that aerospace technology spreads, the more within reach it seems to countries who formerly were in the beg/borrow/steal column. The importance of developing the technical expertise in the economic and strategic results it can achieve is obvious to many. So some of the balls that NASA is dropping ... and that's not their fault, but the people who fund them, namely Joe US Citizen through his proxy, the US Congress ... will be picked up by others. That's good for everyone in the long run, and not only does it help spread the costs to a greater share of the Earth's citizens, it creates opportunities for innovation and experimentation that simply don't exist in the military-industrial-complex-bound US space industry. And, yes, one can easily imagine that another nation's successes might finally wake Joe Sixpack up from his space slumber and inject some more of the Right Stuff, otherwise known as Money, into NASA.

But leading role? Gimme a break! Spare me the hyperbole!
posted by dhartung at 10:25 PM on May 28, 2001

What do we hope to accomplish by throwing multi-million dollar machines at dead rocks, anyway? I never saw what the big deal was with space travel and exploration. Well, that's not true. When I was little, and into science fiction, I thought it was very important. But at this point, we've been to the moon, found some rocks, and came back. Sent stuff to Mars, and found more rocks. I value knowledge and science as much as the next guy, but I'd much rather see 300 million go toward educating people rather than wasted on expensive toys that will tell us that there are still no Martians.
posted by Doug at 10:51 PM on May 28, 2001

Wow. Ok, dhartung is by far more long winded and properly informed than I hope to be at this point. Good show man!

Alas, being Canadian, I must say something. I cant help myself, its a nationalism thing. Canada in theory, has a whole lotta nothing when you compare shere force of thrust/lift capability of the USA or Russia. However, one of the thoughts (as I understand it) in the space industry in canada is : "why try to match what someone else is already doing just fine?" See, instead of everyone trying to build their own castle in the sand, canadian scientists understand that its all one sandbox, and therefore we understand the importance of co-operation and mass integration of all peoples and technologies. Simply put, if "he" makes the perfect rocket for the job, let "us" design all kinds of gear that compliments the other half of the journey (vis-a-vis of the canadian arm, etc.)

I feel that if we have an international space station, we should have international teams, each country working on a smaller part of the greater whole, right?

Ill bring the dip, you bring carrots, he'll bring the chips and she'll bring the bowl. Lets have a party in outspace man, one we can invite the whole planet to and call ourselves a mature adult species for once. Lets build one big sandcastle, come on, theres plenty of room if we co-operate. :)

Oh, and by the way Doug, to answer your question about why "waste" money? Well, you know all those precious elements that we value so much in the construction and scientific aerospace industries? Where do you think all this stuff comes from? A long time ago when the earth was formed, it was formed by this stuff flying around and collecting in bodies. If we can get up and mine asteroids and metorites, we will have mineral resources to build a million space elevators and intergalactic generational seedships. The longer we wait on this slowly depleting rock, the less chance we have of ever getting up there.

I hope I answered your question without sounding like a jerk Doug. Of course, this may not be the right answer, but its the best one I got.
posted by Azaroth at 11:28 PM on May 28, 2001

Doug: Absolutely! We shouldn't spend $300 million on space, what a waste of money. While we're at it, why bother climbing Everest? Why bother trying to find out if the Higgs boson exists? They don't really *matter*, do they?

Perhaps we should just wait until we've solved all poverty, disease, famine and the hundred other problems on Earth before doing anything.

We all have our drives and our interests. It wouldn't be fair to deny them to people. Apart from the fact that cancelling the space programme would pretty much preclude any major advances in satellite tech or other related research, it would also sorely disappoint those who are interested in it. It'd be like cancelling all funding for arts, because it doesn't do anyone any good.

What's the point of *living* if you can't fulfil your goals or dreams, no matter how irrelevant or strange they might seem to others? Some people have the dream to go into space, to walk on another planet. They're no different to the dreams of people wanting to be actors or footballers - in fact, I think most would agree that they're far more noble.

There will always be problems on Earth and whenever we solve one, two more will pop up. If we just worried about the problems all the time, I fear we'd all commit suicide. Sometimes we need to have aspirations to look past the problems and hope for something better.

But to address your concerns more directly, I think you're well aware that the probes we send to Mars aren't just 'expensive toys'. Ignoring the fact that discovering life on Mars *isn't* NASA's number one priority any more (at least, not right now), why don't you take a few seconds to ponder what the discovery of extra-terrestrial life - no matter how primitive - might mean. And then perhaps spending a few billion on looking for it won't seem so wasteful.

The probes we send to Mars do other important research - they tell us about the atmospheric and mineral composition of Mars and inform us about the planet's past. By learning this, we can learn more the history of planets in general and thus understand Earth much better.
posted by adrianhon at 2:31 AM on May 29, 2001

adrianhon, See, now, ya got two different arguments going on. I'll address the absurd one first...
I don't particularly care what people's dreams are. If people want to play Star Trek, let them buy themselves a spaceship. I have dreams that will never get funded by the government, and nor should they. How would you like to pay for 16 mexican prostitues and a tub of easy cheese?
So, that's just kinda wacky, and if your reason for living is to see us send probes to're nuts. But clearly that isn't the case anyway.
Oh, and you're being sarcastic in your first paragraph, but I agree with you completetly. I couldn't possibly care less that the top of Everest was reached. Nice acheivement for the fella who did it, but I don't particularly care either way.
Your second argument is that studying Mars will make us understand the Earth better. To me, thats just not worth billions of dollars at this point.
Is space travel were cost effective, I'd be for it. But it isn't. It's akin to throwing millions of dollars into a slot machine, and getting back a microwave.
And Azaroth, why don't we spend the money we would spend on space exploration, and put it into renewable resource research?
posted by Doug at 1:05 PM on May 29, 2001

You might not like paying for people's dreams, but I think you'll find that you do anyway through your taxes. Governments fund plenty of things that don't appear to have any concrete use, much of which has far less payoff than space exploration.

The fact is, space travel will never be cost effective unless we do through money at it. I think you'll agree that eventually, given cheap enough access to space, we'll make a hell of a lot of money and new discoveries via the utlisation and exploration of space. We can't just keep on waiting for it to get cheaper by itself, it requires research, money and hard work. If we don't spend any money, it will never get done, and taken to an extreme, humans will still be stranded on Earth.

By the way, it would only be cost effective to fund renewable resource research if we thought that it would ultimately provide cheaper and cleaner access to resources than other methods - e.g. mining of asteroids. You shouldn't automatically assume that it would, at least not in the long term. After all, Earth only has a finite amount of resources. Surely it'd be a better move to use the ores and minerals from asteroids rather than ripping up our own land?
posted by adrianhon at 3:15 AM on May 30, 2001

Dreams shmeams.

Look at it from a genetic standpoint, Doug. What do genes do? They reproduce. What are humans? A big ol' mess of genes that are really quite good at reproducing and spreading, and screw the consequences.

There's one reason to go to space: To get our genetic information off this ball of dirt. That's not my imperitive, it's my genes' imperetive.

That imperetive is manifested through things like exploration and dreaming and mountain climbing and space travel, but quite frankly it's all about selfish genes.
posted by cCranium at 5:42 AM on May 30, 2001

dhartung: Kinda hard to "steal" from a source when it's clearly attributed in the citation...
posted by rushmc at 2:47 AM on June 9, 2001

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