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Aiden Muscovitch: Canada needs its own Moon mission

Commentary

India recently made history by accomplishing a lunar landing, joining the United States, China, and Russia as the only countries to have done so. India earned the additional distinction of becoming the first country to land on the Moon’s southern pole.

Aligned with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of an ascendant India asserting its place on the global stage, the Chandrayaan-3’s Moon landing has further cemented the nation’s reputation as a technological superpower. “India is now on the Moon. India has reached the south pole of the Moon. No other country has achieved that. We are witnessing history,” Modi said from South Africa while attending the BRICS summit.

It is perhaps no surprise that an ascendant India aspires to space exploration. Last year, India grew to become the world’s fifth-largest economy with a total GDP of CAD $4.5 trillion. Though placed behind its space-faring counterparts, the U.S. and China, with GDPs of CAD $34 and $24 trillion, respectively, India’s GDP surpassed each of Canada and Russia by over $2 trillion.

Russia’s recent failed attempt at landing its Luna 25 spacecraft on the Moon’s surface cost $297 million. In contrast, India’s two-week Chandrayaan-3 mission cost a mere $101 million. Notably, the Chandrayaan-3 Moon expedition cost less to launch than to produce some space movies; Interstellar and The Martian each cost over $135 million to make.

For our part, Canada is no stranger to space. Our country’s space exploration reached its heights in the early 1980s with remarkable feats, including the deployment of Canadarm 1 on the 1981 Space Shuttle Columbia mission operated by NASA. Canada also made history in 1984 by sending its first astronaut to space, Marc Garneau, aboard the NASA-operated spacecraft called STS-41-G.

Canadarm 1 and 2 still stand as two of Canada’s most notable space achievements, despite Canadarm 1 being launched over 40 years ago and Canadarm 2 more than 20 years ago. Nevertheless, Canada’s recent significant financial contributions to space exploration have continued to propel us in an important supporting role as part of NASA’s space program and the International Space Station. 

The government has dedicated $2.5 billion towards these efforts, including $1.1 billion over 14 years to continue participation in the International Space Station until 2030. $76.5 million over eight years has also been allocated to support Canadian science on the NASA Lunar Gateway project, described as:

“…a vital component of NASA’s Artemis program, (which) will serve as a multi-purpose outpost orbiting the Moon that provides essential support for long-term human return to the lunar surface and serves as a staging points for deep space exploration.”

The Artemis Program, in which Canada is a core international participant, is NASA’s program to return astronauts to the Moon’s surface by 2024. Additionally, $1.2 billion over 13 years has been set aside for the development of a lunar utility vehicle, a Moon rover which is seen as “a logical next step based on technical readiness, human lunar mission needs,” which could potentially be developed on Canadian soil.

In 2020, it was announced that $150 million ($30 million annually) will be allocated over five years to establish the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP). LEAP is designed “to support Canada’s world-class space industry and accelerate the development of new technologies.” The CSA is preparing to use LEAP to assist in its goal of long-term exploration of the Moon and missions to Mars. LEAP will foster innovation in areas like artificial intelligence, robotics, and scientific research. Its objectives include developing technologies for future Canadian deep-space missions and enabling the Canadian space sector to conduct science experiments for lunar conditions.

The Chandrayaan-3’s relatively low cost sets a new standard in space exploration, contributing to the modern era of more attainable space flight. Canada could potentially look to allocate additional funding to the CSA, and to LEAP specifically, in order to launch its own mission to the Moon. The only holding Canada back from groundbreaking scientific developments, presumably including a lunar landing, is a lack of ambition, according to Frédéric Bouchard, the Dean of Arts and Sciences at the Université de Montréal and former chair of the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System.

In a recent Hub Dialogue Bouchard expressed that when it comes to scientific research and innovation, “We’re good, but the other countries are getting better, and we’re not keeping pace. It’s not just a question of dollars, and this is very important; it’s a question of ambition…Are we ambitious enough?”

Taking a literal “moonshot” would certainly qualify as ambitious. Maybe to many Canadians, we are better off remaining a contributing supporter of NASA and a core international partner, but nothing more than that. Bouchard says this attitude is exactly the problem and why we are falling behind:

“When you talk about moonshots or when you talk about increasing innovation potential or increasing productivity…we’ve done great things, but collectively, I think we’ve been a bit complacent because we don’t see how other countries are being extremely ambitious around research innovation.”

Complacency is costly in the long run; in fact, there is substantial risk of falling behind in the rapid scientific advancements that are being made in the international space industry.

Getting ahead in the new lower-cost space flight revolution could be Canada’s ticket to international recognition as a world leader in space-related technological innovation, with all the attendant benefits, economic and otherwise, that will flow from that. And what better way to galvanize the public around this worthy endeavour than to launch our own all-Canadian mission to the Moon? Canada is a faltering middle power. Making our own mark in the stars might well change our standing here on Earth.

India may have a head-start for now with their historic lunar landing, but Canada has leading scientific expertise in many areas of space technology. Certainly we can afford the new lower costs of space exploration—remember, successful lunar launches now cost less than Hollywood space movies. 

Billions of dollars have historically been allocated to Canadian space-related activities, and Canadian scientists and engineers have been crucial parts of NASA’s past success—and its future: Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen generated considerable buzz earlier this year when he was selected to join NASA’s Artemis II. He will become the first-ever Canadian to participate in a lunar mission. How much more inspiring would a completely Canuck-crewed mission be? Could planting a red and white maple leaf in moondust kickstart us out of our current malaise?

Canada already seems poised to have the monetary, technical, and personnel capacity to land on the Moon. In fact, it looks as if Canada has the potential to be the next global space-flight powerhouse, not just an ancillary player. That only leaves one question: do we have enough ambition to make it happen?

Howard Anglin: There’s more to life than politics

Commentary

The saintly editors here at The Hub have agreed to my request to produce one of my two monthly articles for the site as a monthly transatlantic diary. For those readers not familiar with the format, which is more common in British journalism, the diary is a grab bag of short items, sometimes on a common theme, but often not. In my case, what they have in common is that they are either too inconsequential to merit a full article or I can’t be bothered to come up with more than a knee-jerk reaction or a flip comment. This is August.

With apologies to Eliot, August is the cruellest month. It arrives so carelessly that you hardly notice the calendar has turned. Fall is still so far away and out of mind that the months seem to run together in one endless summer. Then just as you’ve exhaled and let down your guard, September is right smack in your face, throwing a long shadow across your days. After that there is a crispness in the evenings that wasn’t there before. In most of Canada, only the first two, or at most three, weeks of August are really summer. After that it is just a countdown to Labour Day and the return of responsibility. August is a con.

* * * 

I spent most of the month Victoria, in a house a few minutes from where I grew up. I once tried to write about this neighbourhood, and specifically the maze of lanes between the houses. I wasn’t happy with result—too precious; too contrived—so I never published it, but I have been drawn again to the cool shade of the Oak Bay lanes by the August heat. 

In that unpublished piece, I wrote that to travel by lanes is to see the world from an unexpected angle, somewhere behind or within it. The backs of houses are where children play unsupervised and intimate laundry hangs unattended. Lanes are part of an older way of life when the line between public and private was not clear, when everyone knew everyone’s business and no one came or went unseen. 

As roads were paved and widened, lanes were left over as the forgotten paths between the lines on the map. They became associated with rural backwardness. The town of Lowick, George Eliot assures us in Middlemarch, “was not a parish of muddy lanes and poor tenants.” 

Exactly a century later, Larkin included lanes among the endangered properties of the vanishing English countryside. His poem “Going, Going” was commissioned as a verse prologue to a 1972 U.K. government report on the human habitat called “How do you want to live?” The poem predicts a future England as the “First slum of Europe,” paved over and bricked in by developers with “spectacled grins.” 

And that will be England gone,

The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,

The guildhalls, the carved choirs.

There’ll be books; it will linger on

In galleries; but all that remains

For us will be concrete and tyres.

Those British motorways, like the varicose highways expanding around Toronto as the bloated megacity strains at its greenbelt, are a new kind of lane fit for an age of speed. Bus lanes, bike lanes, slow lanes, and fast lanes, HOV lanes, change lanes, stay in your lane.

These new lanes are really anti-lanes. Not gentle paths between places but ribbons of asphalt laid out mechanically side by side by side, racing stripes impelling us across the country. Modern lanes are not worn by use over time. Lanes are now infrastructure, planned and plotted, the stuff of municipal budgets and federal grants, of deals between cities and the developers who run them. James Kunstler diagnosed the problem 30 years ago in The Geography of Nowhere. At the time, everyone nodded thoughtfully…and then went right on building more concrete sprawl enmeshed in more concrete highways.

The lanes of my childhood were decidedly of the older kind, pitted gravel tracks with selvages crumbling into long grass. They were out of sight and mostly out of mind, private places where we rode fast side by side, not watching for cars. In the summer we left white dust clouds behind us, and when it rained after a dry month the fine powder dust swallowed fat raindrops, releasing a perfume of grass clippings and sweet gasoline.

* * * 

Not much has changed in Oak Bay since then, but I have noticed that the little houses where middle-class families and retirees used to live are slowly being replaced by larger modern units. Peaked roofs and gables are out of fashion; square lines and flat roofs are in. Done well with quality wood or stone, the modern style can be attractive. Unfortunately, most of the new houses are not—expensive, yes; tasteful, no. One by one the graceful curve of my seaside road is being lined by square boxes, like a street drawn by a particularly unimaginative or dull child. At least there are no tall condos, yet, but I imagine they are coming. They are certainly sprouting up downtown at a worrying pace.

* * *

One of the best things about being back in Oak Bay is the near total absence of politics. Compared to Alberta, where anger at Ottawa has defined provincial politics since at least the first Trudeau, British Columbians’ attitude towards Ottawa is a mix of indifference and ignorance. The Rocky Mountains are a powerful psychological barrier, and anything that does make it over the Rockies drowns in the Salish Sea before it reaches us. If Vancouver is Lotus Land, as Allan Fotheringham dubbed it, then Oak Bay is the Shire: a lush suburban haven happily oblivious to rumours of the outside world. Even local politics is almost non-existent—the mayor ran unopposed in 2022 and the most contentious issue in the two elections before that was the local deer cull. Don’t get me wrong: there is value in active civic politics, but quiescence has its benefits too. And as I try to milk what comfort I can from the last complacent days of August, I know which I prefer.