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Bill Nye and the Planetary Society highlight Canada's top achievements in space exploration

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Wednesday, October 8, 2014, 9:07 AM - On Wednesday, October 1, the University of Toronto played host to a gathering of space science and space exploration enthusiasts, and a crowd of die-hard fans of Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Speaking privately with Mr. Nye, and watching the show, provided a fascinating perspective into the best Canada has contributed in the fields of space science and space exploration.

Although they often go unseen by the public eye, Canada has had many contributions to space exploration. The Canadarm 2, which is currently mounted on the International Space Station, is probably the most visible, as it snags incoming spacecraft for berthing whenever there's a cargo or personnel delivery to the station. Some that are slightly less-well-known are the landing struts on all six of the Apollo mission lunar landers (all of which are still on the Moon), the Canadarm's robot partner, Dextre, and the advanced Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) that is part of the science suites for the Curiosity, Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars.

In a panel discussion on Wednesday night, for a live recording of Planetary Radio - the Planetary Society's online podcast - host Mat Kaplan was joined by Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye 'The Science Guy', Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen, Western University professor Gordon 'Oz' Osinski, and Canadian science writer Elizabeth Howell, to go over just what our great nation has contributed to the space sciences over the years.

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One of our best contributions is the human element - the Canadian Space Agency astronauts that have flown into orbit and participated in valuable research programs here on Earth.

"Chris Hadfield, Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques ... these guys have inspired people," Bill Nye said in an interview with The Weather Network, mentioning just the most recent astronauts to have served with the CSA. "That may not be a discovery, but it may lead to a discovery, by inspiring people."

We've made great contributions through our satellite technologies.
- These have provided global tracking for ships, from exactEarth.com, showing up to the minute positioning for shipments, shipping patterns, piracy monitoring, and monitoring and protection of the ocean environments.
- They are monitoring space junk in orbit, thanks to the Sapphire spacecraft mission, which tracks debris, defunct satellites, old booster rockets and the like, between 6,000 km to 40,000 km out. This helps to keep the world's functional satellites protected from being damaged by this debris.
- They will produce high-resolution images of the Earth's surface with the Radarsat constellation, which will be used for geology, environmental monitoring and providing valuable data during disasters.

Our robot technologies have helped build and maintain the International Space Station(Canadarm 2). They've conducted science experiments on Mars (APSX), and the CSA has a fleet of other innovative rovers that test various other technologies for future missions. According to Elizabeth Howell, these kinds of innovations have also translated to applications back here on Earth. One, called NeuroArm - which is based on the same technology as the Canadarm, can, for example, allow a doctor in Hamilton to remotely perform surgery on a patient in North Bay, nearly 400 kilometres away.

NEXT PAGE: More great Canadian space science, plus Bill Nye's advice for future Canadian space scientists

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