Canada’s Place in Space History
Wednesday, July 4th, 2012
By AJ Plunkett
Astronaut Chris Hadfield is no stranger to Canadian milestones.
To name just a few:
- Hadfield is the first Canadian astronaut to serve as a mission specialist aboard the now-retired U.S. Space Shuttle
- He’s the first to operate the famed Canadarm in orbit, the first to walk in space
- He’s also the first — and only — Canadian to ever board the Russian Space Station Mir.
Next year, Hadfield is scheduled to become the first Canadian to command the International Space Station.
But the recognition he really wants to see is not for himself, but for his country — he’d like to see Canada recognized for its place in space history. And what a place it is.
While the Soviet Union was the first to successfully put a satellite into Earth orbit in 1957, the Sputnik 1’s beeps were first recorded hours after launch. They were recorded by John Herbert Chapman and fellow scientists with the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment, an early precursor to the Canadian Space Agency.
Two years later, the Black Brant 1, the first all-Canadian sounding rocket, was launched from Churchill Range in Manitoba to study the ionosphere. The rocket became a mainstay in suborbital research, for decades helping scientists the world over to better understand the Earth’s atmosphere as well as the Sun, stars, and other planets. Much of that research has been used to build and improve global telecommunications capability.
When Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space in 1961, it was with the help of Canadians, who designed and built the communication antenna aboard the Freedom 7 capsule. Known as STEM, for storable tubular extendible mechanism, the technology was built upon, and, 36 years later, it became the basis for the ramp which the Sojourner rover traveled out of the Mars Pathfinder onto the surface of the Red Planet. The mission returned more than 2.3 billion bits of information on Mars back to Earth.
Following the lead of the Soviets and Americans, Canada became the world’s third spacefaring nation with the launch of the Canadian-designed-and-built satellite Alouette 1. Designed to last a year, the satellite transmitted useful data from its 1,000-kilometer orbit for more than 10 years.
And that’s not all. When the Eagle landed on the Moon in July 1969 as part of the historic Apollo 11 mission, it did so on gear built by Héroux Aerospace of Longueuil, Quebec.
In the 1970s, Canada was the first nation to build its own communication satellite system, which was also the world’s first dual-band communications satellite. Today the nation’s satellite communications sector is recognized for its pioneering innovations into such fields as telemedicine, tele-learning, and e-government.
Perhaps Canada’s most famous contributions to space exploration have been the invention of the Canadarm, a key tool aboard the Space Shuttle, and its follow-on, Canadarm-2, aboard the International Space Station. It was Canadarm-2 that recently snagged the SpaceX Dragon module into dock, helping it become the first U.S. commercial spacecraft to visit the ISS.
An innovator in communications and Earth-observing satellite technology, Canada also contributes research and technology for the Hubble Space Telescope, for the robotic exploration of the sun and Mars, as well as for the world’s first satellite to watch for asteroids and space debris.
And the list goes on and on. No wonder Hadfield is a little proud.
When asked about his appointment as the first Canadian to command the ISS, Hadfield responded that it was “like earning the gold medal at the Olympics. It’s something for Canadians to take pride in. It’s something to point out to each other and say, ‘Hey, we do good things. We are capable, and we are respected.’”
AJ Plunkett is a freelance writer in Virginia with experience in covering defense and aerospace industries as well as the military. AJ blogs via Contently.com