Published in 1967 with the unassuming title ”œUpper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada,” the so-called Chapman Report has effectively been the defining document for Canada’s civilian space program for more than thirty-five years. While it contains references to dated technologies from the Cold War era, the political realities of its time are still surprisingly relevant today and it continues to influence space policy decisions. Canadian Space Agency (CSA) brochures promote John Chapman’s vision, calling him the ”œfather of the Canadian space pro- gram,” and the CSA’s head office in St. Hubert, on the South Shore of Montreal, is known as the John H. Chapman Space Centre.

A testament to the report’s age is the significant amount of copy devoted to the HARP gun project, the brainchild of the late and infamous Dr. Gerald Bull, killed in 1990 for collaborating with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. After a lengthy examination, the report explained in detail why the gun was being rejected as a possible vehicle for a national launch system for Canada’s satellites. However, the report made only a few passing references to then newly emerging, and now vital planetary sciences and to the concept of life existing beyond Earth. And in a single brief paragraph it dismissed the possibility of participating in American space exploration missions, manned or unmanned, military or civilian.

More importantly, the report fatefully recommended purchasing launch services from a foreign country rather than building a reliable launcher system in Canada or else- where. This conclusion was reached despite the authors’ misgivings over (1) losing control of their own destiny, (2) the possibility of not having launch vehicles freely avail- able while a monopoly exists, and (3) the country needing some unifying force or common goal to keep Canada’s scientists, engineers and graduate stu- dents from emigrating to the United States. Regrettably for many Canadi- ans, all three came to pass and, for better or worse, the recommendations made then continue to have repercus- sions on Canada’s civilian space pro- gram today.

This conservative approach to space was adopted at a time when the US was only two years from landing a man on the Moon, and both the US and USSR had been sending unmanned spacecraft to Venus, Mars and the Moon since 1961. The still- fresh and painful memory of the Avro Arrow cancellation in 1959 likely con- tributed to this muted reaction. And the resulting permanent loss of many good Canadian scientists and engi- neers to NASA along with political and managerial expertise in aerospace, partly explains why it took so long to get a formal space program started in Canada. It was not until 1989 that the CSA was established.

A valid but overused argument for not being more progressive on space science or space exploration is that they are expensive and, for a country like Canada, simply not affordable. Issues like health and social welfare traditionally have top priority. Yet healthcare spending in Canada has typically been two to three orders of magnitude greater than for the space program, as much as $100 billion in 2003 for example compared to perhaps a little more than $0.3 billion for space. The 2004 health care accord injected another $41 billion into the system over five years. The appropriate level of support for a space program has to lie some- where between these two extremes yet defining it to everyone’s satisfaction has always been elusive.

CSA president Marc Garneau explained in an interview, it is ”œa very difficult task to sensitize the decision makers on the importance of the Canadian space program. They want to have one, but they are not at all sure at what level it should be funded and I would maintain that we are con- siderably underfunded.” National health care is surely important, but supporting a space program with less than one-quarter of one percent of the federal budget can only be perceived as inadequate. It unduly marginalizes both the long-term future of humani- ty on the planet, and the growing knowledge and awareness of the deep space environment around us. It is arguably irresponsible both domesti- cally and internationally and as with Canada’s underfunding of the mili- tary, at times embarrassing and even shameful.

Linked to the underfunding and likely the cause of it is the reality of political disinterest. Finding a single senator or MP in Ottawa, or even with- in the new office of the National Science Adviser (NSA) to discuss or debate the value, merits, deficiencies or risks of space program strategies or policies, is a challenge. Space agency directors in other countries ”” the United States, India, Russia, and in the European Union ”” report directly to their presidents or prime ministers, to senate or house committees, or their equivalents. Space program strategies are discussed, debated and acted on. Senators like Dana Rohrabacher and John Glenn in the US for example can and do argue for and against impor- tant space-related initiatives. NASA executives often have the ear of the US administration’s highest officials.

In Canada, the space program rates an accountant’s line item in the Industry portfolio, and no mention at all in the 2005 budget, which projects a 50 percent increase in federal spending over the next five years. There is no minister of science or deputy minister to interact with the CSA. Space budget allocations in the Industry portfolio have for years, routinely favoured Earth observation, robotics and satellite communications, strategies that essentially conform to the old Chapman Report recommendations.

The single real mandate that Parliament has always handed the CSA is to be a profitable business unit in a pre-selected, commercial niche mar- ket. Canada has indeed earned an enviable worldwide reputation in its space-qualified robotics and in com- sats, but in space science or space exploration it has been noticeably absent. In these fields there are no ”œchampions” as Garneau calls them. There are not even knowledgeable detractors.

The nations with the best-supported space programs are the nations with large military investments ”” the US, Russia, France, China and more recently India. Garneau points out that for them ”œ…space has been identified for both military and civilian purposes as strategically important to the coun- try and consequently I think there is actually top-down direction given to space programs or to organizations like NASA.” In Japan, ”œ…the Japanese quite clearly recognize the strategic impor- tance of space from both a military and civilian, and industrial-commercial market perspective… The problem with Canada is that I don’t think we realize it at the leadership level.” The CSA is ”œmore in the situation of having to push up from the bottom and convince our leaders that what we want to do in space is important.” The fact that Canada’s new NSA office at first glance appears reluctant to become involved with space policy issues, implies that the CSA will have to continue pushing.

The military connection (rockets are munitions with strategic impor- tance) stems from a ”œrequirement of assured access to space” as Dr. Garneau explained but ”œthere is a reluctance on the part of certain countries to cooper- ate in those particular areas.” From a Canadian perspective then, with both space and military programs poorly understaffed and underfunded, the CSA seems destined to operate literally and indefinitely at the terrestrial fringe, contributing various forms of space services, personnel and instrumenta- tion to support other nations’ deep space missions. Garneau’s 2003 petition for extra funding for a ”œuniquely Canadian Mars mission” was turned down by the auditor general with the recommendation that the CSA ”œmake choices among competing [internal] proposals to remain within its budget.”

The Canadian financial dilemma in space science and space exploration is not unique. Politics aside, and the civil- ian-military connection notwithstand- ing, the Achilles heel of all space programs is the global absence of what is commonly referred to as low cost access to space. The only way to get any- thing into space right now is to launch it on a rocket. But rocket launches are notoriously unreliable and dangerous to both humans and spacecraft, as the loss of two US space shuttles and fourteen astronauts’ lives has shown.

Because of this, additional costs for redundancy and quality assurance to mitigate disasters, spacecraft robustness to survive traumatic launches, and huge insurance premiums make them expen- sive. Typical launches can cost tens of millions to more than a hundred mil- lion dollars and this does not include the decades of infrastructure build-up and maintenance to support them. It makes space programs very expensive.

Unfortunately, rocket science is also a mature technology. It has been more than seventy-five years since Robert Goddard launched the first rock- et in 1926 using essentially the same technology that the Space Shuttles use today. Since then it has been developed and refined tremendously. But there is a growing consensus that no amount of tinkering or innovation is going to make rockets and launches appreciably safer or less expensive than they already are. Spending time and money on improvements seems to have reached the point of diminishing returns and nothing short of a revolutionary change in strategy will make entering space significantly easier or safer.

This includes the efforts by X-Prize enthusiasts looking to create a space tourism industry. They will rely on knowledge of specialized ceramics, off-the-shelf equipment, lightweight materials and carbon composites to reduce the costs of their vehicles and launches, but the risks and dangers of the rocket technology itself will likely remain. As Garneau warned in a Globe and Mail commentary on the X-Prize contest, early crashes could quickly take the glow off space tourism.

The revolution over how to better access space may come in the next decade or so as the advantages of newly emerging nanotechnologies are exploited. Although geared mostly to human bio-applications and smaller, faster computers, one nano-product that is the focus of intense and encour- aging research in Canada and else- where is carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and CNT fibers. The fibers are many times stronger than steel and much lighter. Laboratory quantities are currently being produced with an obvious eye toward their eventual commercializa- tion and mass production to replace or improve domestic products made from carbon-steels, ceramics and other alloy metals. Improvements are likely to fol- low in many areas of industry ”” lighter transportation vehicles, special containers, longer and stronger bridges and tunnels, and tougher buildings resistant even to terrorist attacks. This is only moderately futuristic thinking. The science is sound and once the manufacturing process can be made commercially viable, feasibility studies of industrial engineering projects will be appearing.

Applications to super-strong, light- weight, flexible ropes or strings known as tethers are being considered for space applications. The extremely high tensile strength of CNT fibers has recently allowed the century-old space tether concept to be taken from its science fic- tion storage shelf for serious reexamina- tion. Its most crucial application, in the construction of a novel space transport system called a space elevator, would have enormous positive implications for space science and space exploration. One of its major selling points is that it would reduce the cost of getting into space from about $10,000 or $20,000 per kilogram to less than $100 per kilogram. Though not part of President Bush’s 2004 Moon/ Mars announcement, NASA has appropriated millions of dol- lars for feasibility studies. A detailed study published by Bradley Edwards and Eric Westling, ”œThe Space Elevator ”” A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System,” is at least converting some knowledge- able skeptics into re-thinkers if not believers.

Not surprisingly, pro- moters energetically push the space elevator concept, and Edwards devotes a con- siderable amount of time explaining risk mitigation and identifying critical research needs. Its supposed low cost construction and the fact that it might be privately funded with little or no government or military assis- tance also make it attractive. One important revelation does emerge how- ever, irrespective of the program’s poli- tics, engineering or its ability to get funding. It is financially, logistically, philosophically, and humanely more sensible to use a less costly, smooth, stepwise ascent to Earth orbit on some form of slow-moving elevating system, assuming it is possible to build, than to ride on what is basically a bomb or a controlled explosion, a violent, danger- ous, occasionally unpredictable and largely non-reusable rocket. The belief of space elevator promoters is that car- bon nanotubes may offer a unique opportunity to transform accessing space into just that type of safe, reli- able, repeatable, low-cost operation. It is hoped that the usual, sometimes optimistic feasibility claims and low cost projections will eventually become a reality, and not an early victim of international and domestic politics.

At a keynote address to nanotech- nologists last June, Paul Martin’s newly appointed national science adviser, Arthur Carty, told an Edmonton audience: ”œI have been and still am a strong supporter of nan- otechnology.” This support likely implies an emphasis on applied research in areas like nano-biology, nano-medicine, nano-computing and nano-pharmaceuticals, work that can be quickly commercialized to generate revenue in some pre-selected niche market. Whether or not the support will be extended to include carbon nanotube research for space-related applications such as space tethers remains to be seen.

Researching carbon nanotube materials can and should proceed if only to fulfill one stated mandate of Canada’s NSA ”” ”œto work with the research com- munity [within OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development)] to bring the benefits of our R&D to bear on the challenges of the developing world.” The work being done on using carbon nanotubes for hydrogen storage by the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique [INRS] in Quebec might be an example.

But consideration could also be given to finding ways to exploit carbon nanotube technology for space applications in the same way that robotics expertise became a profitable niche market for Canada during space station con- struction. With other organizations like the newly formed National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) in Edmonton and the INRS, Canada can probably take a lead in this segment of nanotechnolo- gy if it chooses.

The office of the NSA believes that nanotechnology has enormous poten- tial, and that benefits could far out- weigh the costs. This may indeed prove true for the consumer economy in the next decade or so, though not neces- sarily for carbon nanotube research with space applications. But in the lat- ter case, nanotechnologists can take a lead from space experts who attended the Eighth International Conference on Space Operations (SpaceOps 2004) hosted by the CSA in Montreal last May. One of its technical sessions focused on ways to internationally share resources to reduce operating costs. Many space programs involve the cooperative efforts of several coun- tries. This in fact is an important con- cern of the National Science Adviser ”” global cooperation and sharing of research. Lessons learned from interna- tional cooperation on the International Space Station and in space operations for example can be applied to the facil- ities and selected benefits of shared carbon nanotube research and technology transfer agreements.

For all countries involved, space sci- ence, space exploration, space tourism and the commercialization of space have for decades been limited by the space community’s inability to safely and inexpensively access space. Ingenious and creative solutions have been proposed but none have yet over- come the financial, political and tech- nical challenges that normally face them. The space elevator idea may conceivably end up in space history’s dustbin as the unachievable ”œstairway to heaven” that some skeptics have christened it, or it may not. But for now carbon nanotube technology is the latest innovation in material sci- ence that may make space tethers and the space elevator concept worthy of renewed consideration in helping to achieve safe and reliable low cost access to space.

In 1953 a classic Samuel Beckett play called ”œWaiting for Godot” pre- miered in a Paris theatre. It is a tragi- comedy acted out by two Chaplinesque characters standing on a deserted road. They have difficulty remembering events from the day before, pass the time with idle chatter, repetitively perform mundane actions with no obvious purpose, and all the while feel compelled to remain exactly where they are, waiting expectantly for some important individual who never material- izes. That someone is only vaguely defined as ”œGodot.”

NASA and its contributing partners have been functioning this way on their humans-in- space program for years. In their unmanned missions to various destinations throughout the solar system there have been successes. But in the manned exploration of space they have forgotten about the Apollo Moon landings of 1969 to 1972, struggled to complete mundane maintenance and re-supply chores on the International Space Station (ISS), talked constantly about the promised benefits of a space program, and for thirty years endlessly circled the Earth, in Skylab, Mir, the Space Shuttle and the ISS as if waiting for their own Godot.

The Canadian experience has been similar albeit on a lesser domestic scale and under somewhat different circumstances. When talk- ing about embracing space, Garneau explained that inspiration has come on isolated occasions: ”œback in the late sixties, we needed to use satellite communications to link this country. And that works. And we took off. And then suddenly in the 1980s, somebody burst through from the bottom ”” the old Energy, Mines and Resources department said we needed to get into earth observation. But it is only when, occasionally, the over- whelming logic of space bursts through from the bottom that things happen.” During his talk in Edmonton on nanotechnology Carty said: ”œCanada does not have a great track record in developing focused national technology strategies or ini- tiatives…The overall trend in Canada has been to allow for the excellence and ideas to rise up through the sys- tem through a multitude of federal and provincial funding mecha- nisms.” Direction does not exist at the science level in Canada.

Beckett’s play closes with the lines:  

VLADIMIR: Well? Shall we go?

ESTRAGON: Yes, let’s go.

They do not move.

The last line is a motto for the indecision that has characterized NASA’s human exploration of space for three decades and Canada’s space science and space exploration initiatives. Will it also char- acterize Canada’s approach toward nan- otechnology and carbon nanotubes?

The Canadian government can wait for something or someone to sponta- neously burst through from the bottom again, wait for zeitgeist, and try to capi- talize on whatever develops at NINT or INRS and if the situation warrants, use it on the space program. It can stick with the Chapman philosophy for its space program and continue to support com- mercial, niche market initiatives in atmospheric and Earth observation satellites like RADARSAT, communica- tions satellites like Anik-F2, and robotics like the space station’s ”œDextre,” leaving nanotechnology to the health sciences, biology and medical research.

Or it can assume a more proactive role, encouraging and being more receptive to carbon nanotube research, and in particular to a longer-term strat- egy of integrating nanotechnology and carbon nanotube developments into a more inclusive policy statement on Canada’s space program. Although recent history suggests this will not happen, the appointment by Paul Martin of a National Science Adviser, something that has not been done in about forty years, may be a positive sign that things are about to change at least in the way science and scientific research are conducted in Canada. Hopefully the changes can also include how space science and space exploration program policies are decided.

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