The Glacier at Lake Louise (Credit:Harvey Barrison, Creative Commons  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Glacier_at_Lake_Louisein_the_Canadian_Rockies.jpg) As population growth, globalization and climate change make our world increasingly complex, our knowledge of the Earth becomes more valuable with each passing day. Geosciences already play a central role in making Canada and the world safer and more productive. They help prevent landslides on British Columbia’s Sea to Sky highway, forecast droughts in the Prairie Provinces, measure sea-ice loss in Canada’s North, and make sense of the complex environmental systems of the Great Lakes, which contain one-fifth of the world’s fresh water supply and produce over $7.5 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP). But, studying the Earth comes with a built-in obstacle. We only have one! Sample size is a key part of good science. Imagine being tasked to learn everything you could about dogs, but having only your pet corgi to do it with! Humans are pretty smart; they can deduce a lot from a single sample. But if inexplicably your Corgi’s favourite snack was broccoli, could you reasonably assume the same for all dogs? Jake Robins is a Vancouver-based space fan and science communicator. He hosts the WeMartians and Off-Nominal Podcasts, spends his weekends hiking, and can’t stop thinking about Mars. This is why our solar system matters. A vast array of planets, moons, asteroids and comets orbit our Sun. By studying these worlds, we learn what’s true about all planets and what’s just special about Earth. Take for example the Hadley cell, an atmospheric current that brings warm air from the equator to our mid-latitude regions. It turns out, the Hadley cell is also found on Mars, Venus, and even Saturn’s moon, Titan! On the other hand, plate tectonics like the ones forming Canada’s mountain ranges, as we know them now, are unique to Earth. And if space matters so much, the natural next question is “who should do it?”. Here on Earth, there are few places with a more diverse geology than Canada. Some of the oldest rocks in the world, over four billion years old, are found in the Northwest Territories. We can study the scars of the most recent ice age, whose glaciers carved the Canadian Shield and created the many lakes of Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Canadians enjoy a Pacific subduction zone creating volcanos like Mount Garibaldi and can walk among ancient impact craters like the Sudbury Basin. Our backyard is a geologist’s dream come true, and it gives us a head start in becoming world-class scientists. Making Earth safer and more productive is an imperative, and exploring space is a necessary step in that endeavor. As we look to future, I can think of no people more poised to be leaders than... Read more
iss059e016574 – Expedition 59 Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency takes a quick self portrait while working outside the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA) Millions of people are taking pictures everyday with an ease unprecedented even 20 years ago.  One of the biggest reasons why this is so easy now is because space scientists invested in charge-coupled device (CCD) technology decades ago. Back in 1969, two engineers at Bell Labs, Willard Boyle and George Smith, created the CCD (and won a Nobel Prize for their work in 2009). Originally they were looking for ways to store and read-off data in better and faster ways. However, they and many others immediately recognized CCDs would be incredibly useful for imaging as well. Up until that point, all cameras used film: light-sensitive material that, when exposed to light, would create a chemical reaction, leaving an image of the light behind. The best telescopes on the planet used large photographic plates to record images.   Dr. Jesse Rogerson is an astrophysicist and Science Advisor at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. He received is Ph.D. from York University where he studied super massive black holes. Jesse also has dedicated much of his professional career to education and public outreach by working at various museums, science centres, and the York University Astronomical Observatory. CCDs meant the strength of light could be stored electronically and then read-off into a digital picture. For astronomy this meant no more changing photographic plates for each image of the sky you wanted to take! (Credit Yash Prajapati on Unsplash) Around this time, the astronomical community had already begun planning a large space observatory that would eventually become the Hubble Space Telescope. Starlight that travels through Earth’s atmosphere is distorted by the turbulence of the air. Observing through our atmosphere is like trying to see a penny on the bottom of a pool. Even if the pool water is very still, the penny will still be somewhat distorted. By putting a telescope in space, you are above the atmosphere, and thus the starlight is not distorted. But, if your telescope is in space and it uses photometric plates to record images, how do you retrieve the images? And how do you put new plates in the telescope? Astronomers toyed with various answers to these questions including sending astronauts up to retrieve the photometric plates and insert new ones. CCDs solved this problem because images could be saved on hard drives, and beamed back to Earth via RADAR. Unfortunately, CCDs were very new and not ready to be used for high-end science. So universities, labs, and private companies around the world started investing millions in CCD development. As a result of this early investment, CCDs are now in every telescope, every DSLR, and many mobile phones. This is how investments... Read more
Mankind’s curiosity and thirst for knowledge, discovery and a deep desire to leave a footprint have pushed our frontiers to outer space. The neuroArm neurosurgical robot germinated from a quest to help patients with neurosurgical disease, returns space R&D back to earth! By merging advanced space robotics of Macdonald Dettwiler & Assoc. (MDA, Brampton ON) with University of Calgary led innovation, Dr. Garnette Sutherland, Professor of Neurosurgery, made it possible to operate on the brain using a tele-capable robot! The motivation: A precise and accurate machine helping surgeons operate within an MR imaging environment. Since its launch in 2008, neuroArm continues to be used at the Foothills Medical Centre, Calgary AB, making Calgary not only home to world’s first MR compatible robot for brain surgery, but also a cordial host to curious surgeons, scientists and industry worldwide, travelling to witness this Canadian ingenuity in action and continue the innovation cycle! Dr. Garnette Sutherland, Professor of Neurosurgery and Lead – Project neuroArm, University of Calgary, is well known to technology creation, particularly image-guided robotics. In a field where patient care takes centre stage, he continues to collaborate across disciplines and specialties, to translate his innovative ideas to the operating room. Following on the success of the ceiling-mounted intra-operative MRI system based on a high field moveable magnet, Dr. Sutherland asked the question “can surgery be performed within the MR environment while patient images are being acquired…?” Similar to outer space, a high field MR environment is a hostile space where, in addition to seamlessly executing the operation, patient and staff safety demands highest priority! The idea of siting a robot in this environment, controlled by the surgeon now relocated to an adjacent workstation, provided the solution! Space engineering from MDA was tasked to take the challenge of product development, and neuroArm, an offspring of Canadarm and Dextre, was born! Concept, materials and engineering principles of space robotics were applied to neuroArm, such that desired high precision, accuracy, safety/no-go zones, were realized. The system, first and only in the world, has showcased globally, the nuances and integration of advanced robotics into the operating rooms. Project neuroArm is presently developing... Read more
Space is beautiful, fascinating, and challenging. These three characteristics combined are the reason why space has inspired and motivated some of the most incredible accomplishments and discoveries that humanity has ever seen. Across disciplines, space attracts curious minds and challenges them to set their sights higher. And beyond the scientific community, space offers a unique avenue for ordinary people to engage with science and the awe and insights that science offers. Space’s ability to inspire and engage people is among the many reasons that space matters. Artist’s rendition of Saturn viewed through Titan’s hazy atmosphere. Image credit: European Space Agency (ESA) Kate Howells is a science communicator and advocate. She works for The Planetary Society, an internationally active non-profit organization that aims to empower the world’s citizens to advance space science and exploration. She is the author of Space is Cool as F***. For kids and adults alike, space is a subject that engages and excites. The beauty of the cosmos can stir an artist’s creativity; the mysteries of the universe can motivate a career in science or mathematics; the endless possibilities of the future of space can provide fodder for a writer’s work; the ingenuity that it takes to explore space can inspire a path in engineering. Whatever direction a person is inclined to take in their life, whatever their passion, space can help propel them to greater heights of achievement and creativity. Even when space doesn’t influence a career path, it can still impact how a person sees the world. For many people science is something they weren’t good at in school, so they see it as something they can’t participate in today. And yet every person on this planet, regardless of their education, can look up at the night sky or see a high-res image of another planet and understand that the universe is amazing. You don’t need an in-depth understanding of space science to appreciate what it can show us. The experience of space as a window into science can be a powerfully positive one, changing attitudes toward science at large. And the more society at large embraces science, the better equipped we will be to tackle today’s global issues. To maintain what space brings to society, we have to keep exploring. With new discoveries, new images, new inventions, we... Read more
Nearly every morning when I woke up for Junior High School, I ran to our front door to pick up our local newspaper, the Calgary Herald, from the front steps. Sometimes the paper was wet from rain, other times warm from sitting in the sun, and often ice cold and covered in a layer of frost. Either way it came, I brought the paper to our kitchen table and flipped through each section until I came to Science and Technology. I was looking specifically for stories about space exploration. When I saw an article covering Canada in space, I neatly cut out the pages and organized each into protective covers to store in a binder. As a young girl dreaming of the stars, with big goals to work in the space industry, this was my way of capturing history. My way of capturing what the accomplishments of Canadian engineers, scientists, and astronauts meant to me. Through these articles I felt connected to their stories; where what seemed impossible became truly possible. Twenty years later I can probably say that I have made it in Canada’s aerospace industry. I am an Engineer in Mission Systems at MDA and have for nearly the last decade worked on a variety of Canadian space initiatives. Everything from the development of robotic systems to repair satellites in orbit that are no longer working (think robotic arms like the Canadarm and robotics tools), studying how hazardous lunar dust affects hardware that we would use for a lunar habitat or rover, and even helping to design the chassis and locomotion system for ESA’s ExoMars rover, scheduled to launch in 2020 (the chassis and locomotion system is how the rover drives around on Mars i.e. its legs, wheels, motors etc.). Natalie Panek is an aerospace engineer at MDA, a Maxar Technologies company, as well as an avid adventurer. She works on Canadian space robotics and space exploration programs, including the chassis and locomotion systems for ESA’s ExoMars 2020 Mars rover. Natalie is also a member of the Explorer’s Club and a Fellow of the... Read more
Did you know Canada was the third country in space in 1962, after Russia and the USA? Just a first accomplishment of many. Today, Canada is an acknowledged world leader in space robotics, satellite communications, Earth observation and space science. Our diverse space sector includes some of Canada’s most innovative companies, universities, and research institutions. It generates $5.5 billion in revenue annually, employs 10,000 Canadians in highly skilled jobs — 41% of the workforce hold university degrees, supports nearly 22,000 more Canadian jobs and contributes $2.3 billion to Canada’s GDP. How are things looking for Canada’s future in space? Well, it depends. Canada’s investment in space has been declining for many years, and we’ve had no long-term space plan for decades. Since 1992, we have fallen from 8th to 18th amongst all space-faring countries in spending as a share of GDP. And just as the economic opportunities of space are increasing exponentially. The current space-related global market opportunity is estimated to be $380 billion and growing fast. Not only are we losing ground to other countries, but an important door, now open, will soon close. Canada’s international space exploration partners, including the US, Europe, and Japan, are planning a return to the Moon in the 2020s with a small space station, the Lunar Gateway. It will be the base for lunar surface exploration, a science lab, a communications hub and a staging platform to explore deeper space. The international community expects Canada to provide advanced robotics for the Lunar Gateway – a third generation of the iconic Canadarm. It’s a strategic and fairly modest financial commitment that secures our place as a full partner in the mission, keeping the door open for our astronauts to participate in future space missions and, potentially, to further contributions like lunar surface rovers and space medicine technologies. However, Canada needs to decide soon whether we will participate. Choosing to invest in space means holding onto our 60-year legacy; to our leadership position in space science and technology; to our vibrant and innovative space sector; to our brightest young engineers, scientists and mathematicians; to the beloved Canadarm program (92% of Canadians say “when I think about or... Read more
Before stepping out the door this morning you checked the weather forecast on your mobile phone. Would you need a coat and an umbrella? On your way to work you stop off at the Tim Horton’s for a strong cup of coffee. Short on cash, you pay with your bank card. Back in the car, you listen to the latest hurricane tracking report on Sirius XM. The storm on the east coast has been upgraded to a Category 5. Search and rescue teams have been deployed to assist the affected communities. Just as the weather forecast predicted, it starts to rain. The roads are wet and slippery. Traffic is heavy, and you will be late for work. You make the uncomfortable call to your workplace letting them know that you are delayed and will be late for a scheduled morning meeting. Thank goodness for Waze and Google Maps to give you an alternate route. You arrive at the meeting just in time to see your boss discussing the report you were up late preparing the night before. You breathe a sigh of relief. Luckily you emailed the report to the overseas team ahead of time. Practically every aspect of the above scenario used satellite resources. voir en français Even though they’re in orbit hundreds or even thousands of kilometres above us, satellites are part of our everyday lives, whether we know it or not. For several decades, satellites have taken pictures of Earth, sending back images, even in the film format back in the early days. They have also studied our universe, provided a Global Positioning System network, made Satellite phones, television, and Internet possible, through remote access and their unique quality of providing highly accurate time-keeping. What would happen if all the satellites stopped working? This BBC article explains how the world would be a very different place. Communications, transport, power and computer systems would be severely disrupted. Global business would ground to a halt and food supply chains would eventually break down. It is a truly a tribute to the space industry that we can take many parts of our day-to-day lives, that are enabled by satellites, for granted. Clearly, space matters.... Read more