When I was but a lad of 8 I watched the Americans land men on the moon and I became hooked on NASA’s space program. I remember the Skylab mission and I remember recording the Apollo/Soyuz docking on my tape recorder while sitting in front of the television. When the shuttle was announced I sent away to NASA for an astronaut application kit. I still have it. Unfortunately my dreams of becoming an astronaut where dashed when I read the visual acuity requirements.
My love of space flight has continued with me all these years and I still, daily, follow the progress of the various space missions and programs around the world. Unfortunately there is very little to follow in my own country as Canada’s space program is only a fraction of the size it could or should be.
Since I have developed a political philosophy of capitalism I have had to come to terms with a proper government’s role in space research. I have come to the conclusion that a free nation should have the capacity to launch, from its own territory, satellites and payloads which advance the defense of the nation and its citizens and which can augment the proper functions of a proper government. For example the Landsat and Radarsat satellites survey and record changes in Canada’s land and ocean territory and can be properly thought of as a legitimate way to carry out the task of protecting the property of the government and of individuals. Communications satellites are legitimate in-so-far that it is an essential part of government to be able not only to communicate with its citizens but also for its military to communicate with each other. Research into the upper atmosphere enhances our ability to communicate and so again is proper. Spy satellites would be a necessary role for a space program as would the ability to launch missiles against our future enemies.
Ayn Rand, herself praised NASA and the American space program when she wrote about her experience watching in-person the launch of Apollo 11.
if we do continue down the road of a mixed economy, then let them pour all the millions and billions they can into the space program. … Let it not be (the United States) only epitaph that it died paying its enemies for its own destruction. Let some of its life-blood go to the support of achievement and the progress of science. The American flag on the moon – or on Mars, or on Jupiter – will, at least, be a worthy monument to what had once been a great country.
Canada got off to a good start in September of 1962 when it launched (on a US rocket from Vandenberg AFB in California) Alouette 1. Since the satellite was built in Canada we became the third country to have a satellite in space after the Soviet Union and the United States. Since then we have let countries like India, Japan and Communist China surpass us.
Canada’s space budget is not insignificant, $370 million, but it is paltry to what it should be in order to carry out the tasks that it should be able to do. By comparison, NASA’s budget is $17.6 billion; the European Space Agency’s budget is $5.3 billion, France’s $2.6 billion, Japan’s $2.1 billion, Germany’s 1.8 billion, Italy’s $1.5 billion and India’s $1.2 billion.
Given our GDP of $1.2 Trillion, the vast size of this country, its skilled technical labour force, its skilled scientists and its way of life to protect, Canada should expand its space budget to be at least that of its comparable G7 counterparts like Germany, France or Italy. With 1/10th the population of the United States our space budget could easily be 1/10th theirs or $1.8 billion or almost 5 times what it is at present. Consider that the Harper government wants to spend $2 billion over the next five years expanding the prison system to put teenage pot-smokers behind bars.
I understand that the Canadian Space Agency is currently considering a launch site somewhere on Cape Breton Island (probably chosen for its eastern and northern coasts which would allow for both polar and equatorial launches. Typically launch sites have uninhabited down-range areas in case anything goes wrong.) The government should pump as much money as it can into furthering this idea.
We need our own launch facilities for the same reason I argued we should have our own nuclear weapon capability a few weeks ago. We can no longer rely on the United States, Russia or the ESA to do our heavy lifting for us. Launches of a military nature must be done on our soil with our technology on our terms. To go cap-in-hand and ask that the US, France or Russia launch our satellites for us is an abrogation of our sovereignty if we could do it ourselves.
A truly Canadian space program would capture the minds of young aspiring scientists and students who would hopefully have that same awe that I had when I saw Americans walk on the moon. Again, Rand said it best when she said that
The most inspiring aspect of Apollo 11’s flight was that it made such abstractions as rationality, knowledge, science perceivable in direct, immediate experience. That it involved a landing on another celestial body was like a dramatist’s emphasis on the dimensions of reason’s power: it is not of enormous importance to most people that man lands on the moon; but that man CAN do it, is.
While I’m not suggesting that Canada has a moon-landing program I am suggesting we have a space program that will inspire Canadians to admire the possibilities of science and rationality as opposed to the current trend to admire mysticism and ignorance.
(Originally aired on Just Right show #172 October 7, 2010. To download the show visit http://www.justrightmedia.org)