Canadian Space Agency needs funding, needs direction

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Canadarm is extended from the space shuttle Endeavour during operations with the International Space Station on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007.
Something I've been talking about for a long time has finally made some headlines here.

A quick check of the numbers for the CSA shows that it is not only particularly small in total compared to NASA, but it's also much smaller per capita as well. It has an annual budget of $375 million, which works out to a bit over $10 per person. NASA on the other hand has over $17 billion, which works out to about $50 per person. And let's not forget that the US has been running a deficit for quite some time while Canada hasn't run one since 1992, I believe.

Thanks to the GST cut from 7% to 5% there's not as much leeway in the budget as before of course, but an increase of a few hundred million dollars really is small potatoes in terms of the overall budget, while at the same time a big deal in terms of growth for the CSA compared to its budget now.

Anyway, here's what the article says:

An Ottawa-based think tank has teamed up with the Canadian Auto Workers union to urge the government to significantly increase funding for Canada's space program.

The CAW and the Rideau Institute want the Tories to top up public spending for the Canadian Space Agency so that it matches those of other G8 countries. That would require more than $1.5 billion dollars over the next five years.


Staples noted that Canadians are excited by the nation's part in high-profile missions, but Ottawa needs to do more to make sure Canada does not give up an international leadership role in the future.

"Canadian technology is now sitting on Mars as part of the Phoenix mission. But these showcase achievements mask an underlying problem that our study found -- that Canada is lagging behind the G8," Staples said.

Staples also said additional support for Canada's space program is needed to give it some stability. The CSA has had three presidents in the span of three years.

"There's really been a lack of leadership since Marc Garneau left the space agency in 2005," he said.

"There's a lack of a steady hand, a vision."

Staples said engineers and Canadian workers are "standing around" and "wondering what's next"

So what about direction? I say launch a probe to a near-Earth asteroid, or another small space telescope. Small missions like this are areas where other countries simply haven't gotten around to exploring or observing (NASA's busy with other things at the moment), but can still be done by a country like Canada. NEAR Shoemaker for example cost slightly upward of $120 million. Easily done with a slight budget increase and sufficient leadership.


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