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OUT OF THIS WORLD | What's Up In Space - a weekly look at the biggest news coming down to Earth from space

Say hello to Canada's two newest astronauts!

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Saturday, July 1, 2017, 3:31 PM - The Canadian Space Agency has announced our nation's two newest astronauts - Joshua Kutryk and Jennifer Sidey - who will soon join David St. Jacques and Jeremy Hansen as our future representatives in space!

"Today, as we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, we also look towards an exciting future of space exploration," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during the July 1 celebrations on Parliament Hill. "We are a society of creative thinkers, explorers, innovators. As we embark on Canada’s next 150 years and beyond, we can count on these two Canadians to help shape our future."

Credit: CSA

Lieutenant-Colonel Joshua Kutryk, originally from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, was an experimental test pilot and a fighter pilot for the Canadian Armed Forces, and holds three masters degrees - in defence studies, in space studies, and in flight test engineering. According to the CSA, he wanted to become an astronaut because he has always been fascinated with space, he believes that space exploration can help make the world a better place, and above all, he wants to help humanity broaden its collective horizon.

Credit: CSA

Dr. Jennifer "Jenni" Sidey, originally from Calgary, Alberta, was as a mechanical engineer, a combustion scientist and a lecturer at the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, where she earned her Ph.D. in engineering. According to the CSA, she dreamed of becoming an astronaut to advance the application of science for the benefit of society and to inspire young people to pursue their interests in science.

“Canada’s participation in space is important for scientific discovery and innovation," said Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. "The technologies that are designed for space today can one day be used to improve the lives of all Canadians. These innovations also have the potential to create new jobs and opportunities for Canadians. Our country’s newest astronauts will play a key role in advancing space technologies while pushing the frontiers of scientific knowledge. That’s how Canada’s space program drives innovation for a better Canada."

Canada's contributions to space exploration

We've pretty much all heard about Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who commanded the International Space Station and wow'd us with an amazing string of images and videos from orbit. The Canadarm is probably the most well-known piece of space hardware that currently sports the Canadian flag on it.

Did you know, however, that the first legs to set foot on the Moon during the Apollo missions were Canadian? No, there wasn't a stowaway on board the lunar lander. The legs of all the Apollo lunar landers were designed by Canadian company Héroux-Devtek, in Longueuil, QC! Did you know that Canada was actually the third nation on Earth to put a satellite into orbit? How about that a Canadian science instrument was the first to see snow on Mars!

Canada's accomplishments in space exploration are varied and extensive, but to find out what the most important contributions have been, and where Canada is (and should be) going in the future, we asked some experts on the subject.

Brian Ewenson is a space expert and aerospace educator, who has flown numerous student experiments on space shuttle missions, and thus trained mission astronauts to perform his work in space. He is professional speaker, who regularly talks to classrooms and to the public about what it's like for astronauts to live in space. Follow him on Facebook: www.facebook.com/bespaceman1

Tanya Harrison is a geologist and planetary scientist who has lent her expertise to missions such as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Curiosity rover and is currently the Director of Research with the NewSpace Initiative at Arizona State University. There, she continues her work on Mars with the science team for NASA's Opportunity rover and with the Mars 2020 rover mission team. Follow her on Twitter: @TanyaofMars

Raymond Francis is a planetary scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who has worked with NASA's Curiosity team since just after the rover landed on Mars, as Science Payload Uplink Lead (sPUL) for the rover's ChemCam instrument, as Science Theme Group Lead for Environmental and Atmospheric Science (ENV-STL), and Keeper-of-the-Plan for Geological and Mineralogical science (GEO-KOP). He was also on the team that developed AEGIS - the Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science - a way for the rover to select its own targets for investigation with its ChemCam instrument, and was just appointed as the Science Team Training Coordinator for the Mars 2020 rover mission. Follow him on Twitter: @CosmicRaymond

Danny Bednar is a Ph.D. candidate and Lecturer at Western University. He teaches courses on space exploration, space history, and environmental issues. Follow him on Twitter: @SpaceProfessor2.

What would you consider to be the most important Canadian contribution to space exploration, so far?

Brian Ewenson: "The Canadarm was our ticket to space for the astronauts. We only contributed 2% of the ISS, but it would have been impossible to build without the RMS/SSRMS [Remote Manipulator System/Space Station Remote Manipulator System - the formal names for the Canadarm and Canadarm2]."

Tanya Harrison: "It feels cliché to say the Canadarm, but I’ve got to go with it in terms of importance. It is not only scientifically significant in its use to help construct the International Space Station (ISS) and service the Hubble Space Telescope (among many other satellites), but it is culturally significant - every Canadian has heard of it, and many are proud of it. The Canadarm was also a revolution in space robotics. No one had ever built anything like it before. Not only did it pave the way for the Canadarm2 and Dextre on the ISS, but the technology behind the Canadarm has been miniaturized for use in remote surgery and precision microsurgery. This opens up huge potential for lifesaving healthcare in remote areas on Earth and beyond."

Raymond Francis: "Probably one of our most significant contributions is also the most visible – our robotics expertise in the form of the Space Shuttle and ISS remote manipulator systems – the Canadarms. Initially secondary systems on the shuttle, they became essential for deploying satellites, recapturing them, and other unexpected tasks. Most especially, they became essential in allowing the shuttles to return to flight after the Columbia incident, by enabling a full on-orbit inspection of the thermal protection system. To the station, the Canadarm2 was even more indispensable – the station could not have been assembled on orbit without it. So in this sense, Canadian robotics were a major enabler of these significant projects – we couldn’t have built the space station, saved the Hubble telescope, recaptured LDEF [the Long Duration Exposure Facility] and EURECA [the European Retrievable Carrier], or deployed a great many spacecraft without them."

Danny Bednar: "I think its hard to put anything in front of the Canadarms as Canada's most important contribution to space exploration. However, my personal favourite might be the MET instrument on NASA's Mars Phoenix lander operated out of York University that helped us better understand weather on the Red Planet."

When asked about a favourite mission, Harrison replied: "As far as my personal favourite, I have to look to Mars. Most people probably don’t know that (A) it snows on Mars, and (B) a Canadian instrument and science team discovered it! The meteorological station on NASA’s Phoenix lander detected high altitude snow in the martian atmosphere back in 2007 by shooting a laser up into the clouds. This snow doesn’t reach the ground, however, it transitions directly from ice to vapour in the dry lower atmosphere."

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Canadian Space Agency

What would you say is the most underrated or under-reported Canadian contribution to space exploration?

BE: "We were the third country in the world to launch a satellite, and the world's first to have a constellation of Communication Satellites. We have such a vast geographic spread that it naturally lead us to use space technology to communicate across vast distances."

TH: "RADARSAT is probably Canada’s most important yet least known contribution to space. The Canadian Space Agency’s RADARSAT-1 and 2 satellites have provided a wealth of Earth observing data using synthetic aperture radar, able to pierce through clouds to see our planet’s surface, day and night, in a way traditional visible wavelength images can't. Data from RADARSAT has been used to monitor the effects of climate change, disaster response and mitigation, agriculture, security, and more. RADARSAT-2 is a silent workhorse that’s been flying over our heads for nearly a decade now, dutifully mapping away."

RF: "I think a lot of people are unaware of Canada’s historical and continuing expertise in Earth Observation systems. Canada was a pioneer in orbital synthetic aperture radar systems, and continues to maintain that capability. A great many different user communities exist for RADARSAT data, and some of them may not even know where that information comes from. We’ve also have a number of other science missions to monitor the Earth – SciSat-1, for example, provides unique and valuable atmospheric composition modeling, over a decade after its launch."

DB: "Considering the significance of the Apollo landings, I don't think it is recognized enough that Canadian Owen Maynard was Chief of the LEM (Lunar Exploration Module) engineering office. I also think the career of Canadian cartographer Phil Stooke is something that would surprise a lot of people when it comes to mapping asteroids and documenting the history of Martian and Lunar exploration."

What would you say is the most exciting or interesting way that Canada is either currently expanding its contribution to space exploration, or is set to do so in the near future?

BE: "Canada has highly specialized niches in the space program. Telerobotics, earth observation with RADARSAT and I think our expertise in mining will lead us be a leader in in-situ resource allocation. IE: we will be the miners gathering Helium-3 from the Moon."

TH: "Canada is slated to expand its radar chops from Earth to Mars aboard NASA’s NExt Mars Orbiter (NEMO) in 2022. European-built radar systems have been sent to Mars previously, revealing large amounts of ice buried beneath the martian surface in certain areas (fun side note: the largest non-polar ice deposit on Mars was discovered by a Canadian, Cassie Stuurman, who was an undergraduate student at the University of Western Ontario at the time using radar data!). But it’s just the beginning. Sending a more advanced radar system to Mars will help reveal more clues about the subsurface of the Red Planet. From orbit, radar is one of the very few ways we can peer beneath the surface."

RF: "The CSA is currently working on defining its next expansions, but one exciting project recently announced is the potential contribution of an orbital radar to an upcoming NASA Mars orbiter. This would be an exciting capability, and would build naturally on our Earth-observation heritage. It would also provide opportunities for Canadian scientists to participate in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data from that mission."

DB: "I think everyone interested in planetary science is excited about NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission to bring back samples of an asteroid. The CSA's laser altimeter is gonna play a huge role in providing 3D maps of Asteroid Bennu so that the mission can safely chose a spot to sample from."

Are there areas of space exploration that, in your opinion, Canada should be expanding into?

BE: "Definitely mining and resource gathering."

TH: "Given the political climate in the U.S., I think Canada needs to double down on Earth observing to make sure we don’t have any interruption in critical datasets to monitor things like climate change. With so many Arctic assets, this is especially important for Canada. Realistically, the Canadian Space Agency as it stands doesn’t have the budget to execute large-scale planetary missions like NASA can—although as more commercial launch providers enter the game and the cost of spacecraft decreases thanks to the advent of CubeSats and SmallSats, perhaps planetary exploration without NASA’s aid could be possible in the future. (Note that I’m not advocating we stop working with NASA. It would just be pretty darn cool to have an entirely Canadian mission to another planet!)"

RF: "There’s a lot of research and expertise in Canada in technologies for environmental control and life support systems. The necessary technologies include recycling resources, purifying water, producing food in marginal environments, and more – these are essential to human exploration missions of the future, but they’re also useful here on earth, in many contexts. Canada could improve food security in its remote northern communities with the same technologies, and could use those communities as testing grounds for its potential space systems. I also think that Canada has a lot to contribute in terms of robotics and science for lunar research, joining the many other countries with mid-size space programs interested in lunar missions. And finally, we’ve made great strides in expanding planetary science education and research in Canada, and we can continue growing that. We have an inherent asset in our geography, which has numerous impact craters and planetary analogue settings which support both field research and operations development."

DB: "I think Canada has carved out a nice niche in robotics and Earth observation. Continued partnerships with other space agencies like ESA, NASA and JAXA will be great, and a focus on providing more instruments for humanity's robotic explorers is what I'm most hopeful for."

Where do you see Canada’s greatest contributions in the next 10 years? 25 years? 50 years?

BE: "Telerobotics in the near term has lead to telemedicine, while RADARSAT has help many folks around the world during natural disasters, and I think we will certainly be experts at mining on terrestrial planets and even asteroids."

TH: "In the next 10 years, definitely in Earth observation in terms of climate change. It’s harder to say what Canada will do in the long term… right now there is call for input on what Canada’s space strategy should be, and I think that will shape things to come. But if NASA decides to send humans to Mars in the next 25–50 years, I can easily see a Canadian astronaut being included - and possibly a robotic arm or two!"

RF: "I hope to see the international community make significant movement towards major missions, eventually with humans aboard, to the moon and Mars. Canada, I hope, will make significant and meaningful contributions to those. I would also like to see Canada continue the strategy of contributing instruments to international planetary missions – we should aim to get as much out of that approach as possible, and perhaps eventually lead our own planetary missions. And using the same expertise, we should continue to study and monitor our home planet."

DB: "I think the CSA's focus on Earth and climate observation with the in-development RADARSAT Constellation is a key part of Canada in Space. Its not exactly the fancy exploration of Mars and Saturn, but moving forward, Canada's role in keeping an eye on things down here will be just as important as anything else."

As evident from these answers, Canada has many accomplishments when it comes to space exploration, and we are poised to accomplish even more in the future.

If you are interested in finding out more about Canadian contributions to space exploration, head to the Canadian Space Agency website. If you would like to provide input on what Canada's direction should be, going forward, contact Canada's Space Advisory Board.

Happy Canada Day!

Source: Canadian Space Agency

Watch Below: The famous Canadarm is getting its own postage stamp


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