By Graham Gibbs & W. M. (“Mac“) Evans
This paper, first presented at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th – October 3rd, 2014, is a brief history of the Canadian space program, written by two of the major participants.
In late 1979 and early 1980 the Ministry of State for Science and Technology (MOSST) and the Air Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) independently analyzed the existing approach to space in Canada and both concluded that there were weaknesses that limited the scope and benefits of the program.
Both also concluded that correction of these deficiencies was essential to the more efficient and effective use of the government’s space resources. The AIAC argued strongly for the formation of a national space agency.
In response to these concerns, the Prime Minister in July 1980 assigned to MOSST “the leadership role with respect to space policy and development” and transferred responsibility for the Interdepartmental Committee on Space (ICS) from the Minister of Communications to the Minister of MOSST. Thus, in 1980, MOSST became the lead agency in the areas of space research and development, policy development, and coordination of space activities among government departments and agencies.
In April 1981, John Roberts, the Minister of State for Science and Technology announced a three-year space plan for Canada (1981/82 to 1983/84). This was the first time that a consolidated space plan had been considered by the government. The plan was aimed at building upon Canada’s strengths to use space for communications and science, while at the same time developing a major new thrust in the area of remote sensing.
More than 60% of the new funding of $64Mln CDN was dedicated to remote sensing projects including a new basic R&D program to give Canada the technological and industrial competence to develop and establish a remote sensing satellite carrying a synthetic aperture radar (which eventually became known as RADARSAT). In making his announcement, Mr. Roberts indicated that it was the government’s intention to update the three year space plan every year.
During this period, Canada also delivered the first of what would become multiple Canadarm’s to NASA. A post (unfortunately, now deleted) on the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) website described very eloquently the moment that Canadarm sprung into the consciousness of people everywhere in the world:
The morning of Friday, November 13, 1981, yielded a great emotional moment of pride for all Canadians. Shortly past 10:00 a.m. EST on that date, a majestic sight was broadcast on every television screen around the world.
Through the aft window of shuttle Columbia, a video camera operated by the two STS-2 astronauts, Commander Joe Engle and Pilot Richard Truly had begun to transmit the first images of the deployed Canadarm.
The arm, bent in an inverted V shape position, shined against the jet-black background of space, under a milky blue portion of the earth. The Canada wordmark with the red maple leaf flag prominently displayed on the upper arm boom of the Canadarm were a proud and clear statement about Canada’s official contribution to the Space Shuttle program. Canadarm quickly became the icon around the world for Canada’s high technology capabilities.
The importance of the Canadarm to the Shuttle Program is indicated by the fact that this first flight of the arm took place on just the second Shuttle flight.
In December 1981, Mr. Roberts announced the government’s second three-year space plan (1982/83 to 1984/85) that in essence added one more year to the previously announced plan. This new plan increased the government’s expenditures on space for these three years by 38% and included Canadian participation in the L-SAT Communications Satellite Program of ESA (justified on the grounds that it would support the prime contractor policy) and project definition studies for a new communications satellite program (MSAT) to provide communications services to mobile users anywhere in Canada.
In 1982, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the flight of Alouette I, NASA extended an invitation for Canada to fly its own astronauts on the Shuttle. This offer was clearly seen as a “thank you“ to Canada for providing the Canadarm.
The government recognized immediately the significance of this offer and National Research Council (NRC), as the only organization in the government with human space flight experience, was assigned responsibility to establish the Canadian Astronaut Program Office.
The NASA offer was for two payload specialist flights, but NRC had ambitions to ensure Canada would be ready for additional flight opportunities, including flights to the space station that was on the drawing boards at NASA. In July, 1983 NRC placed an ad in Canadian newspapers seeking candidates.
Canada’s first six astronauts were announced in December, after a country-wide competition involving more than 4400 applicants. Ten months later, in October 1984 Marc Garneau became the first Canadian to fly in space. A little over a year later, the Shuttle that had taken Marc into orbit exploded on launch killing all seven astronauts on board.
It is interesting to note that Canada entered the human space flight arena primarily to support the Canadian Space industry. There was no Canadian user need for either the Canadarm or the Astronauts, but the space industry needed a major program to follow-on to CTS.
But public reaction to the Canadarm and the astronaut programs was so positive and so strong that these one shot efforts created the policy imperative to make human space flight a permanent part of the Canadian Space Program and would lead eventually to the creation of the Canadian Space Agency.