50 Years Ago, Canada Was Also in Space

50 Years Ago, Canada Was Also in Space


In 1969, like many children, I was somewhat possessed by space travel. In my bedroom were plastic models of space capsules that I, or more accurately my father, had built. And I coveted a card showing that I was on the waiting list for flights on Pan Am’s space travel service, which never made it beyond a fictionalized appearance the year before in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

The Times, while perhaps not possessed, was certainly all over the space program 50 years ago this month when Neil Armstrong made his “one small step” on the moon. And for the anniversary, my colleagues have turned their attention once again to lunar matters. A package of their articles can be found here.

[Read: Apollo 11 Moon Landing 50th Anniversary]

There’s a lot there already, with more coming every day. If you haven’t seen it, be sure to look at this photo gallery.

Half a century later, the images from that first moon landing remain as captivating and dramatic as ever. With renewed efforts to return people (including a woman for the first time) and robots to the moon, Nadia Drake looks into the surprisingly tricky business of preserving Mr. Armstrong’s first footstep on the lunar surface and other artifacts from the first round of human exploration.

By the time I was in university, I’d recovered from my fevered astronaut mania and was beginning to question the cost of sending people, rather than machines, to explore space. The moon project cost $180 billion, adjusted for inflation. In The Times’s Book Review recently, Jill Lepore, the prolific and prominent professor of American history at Harvard, took stock of the moon landing’s legacy and value in a provocative essay.

Canada had a relatively advanced space program of its own in 1969 although it did not attract the kind of attention the moon landing did. Seven years earlier, it became the third country in the world to build a successfully orbiting satellite. Launched on an American rocket, the satellite, Alouette I, provided data about the upper atmosphere and the ionosphere that was used for improving radio communications in Canada’s north.

The nation’s efforts in space around science and communications were both worthy and useful. But the program didn’t seize the public’s imagination until the arrival of the space shuttle and, with it, Canadian astronauts.

Elementary schools named for Roberta Bondar, the neurologist who in 1992 became the first Canadian woman in space, seem to be a regular fixture of suburban neighborhoods throughout Canada. More recently, Chris Hadfield became a celebrity for his musical stylings from the stars. And Julie Payette, the governor general who acts as head of state on Queen Elizabeth II’s behalf, is another former member of the country’s corps of astronauts.

Much of what Canada does in space today still doesn’t involve astronauts. I asked Sarah Gallagher, a professor of physics and astronomy at Western University in London, Ontario, about the value of the costly business of sending people into space.

“In the same way that science is a human imperative, exploration is as well,” said Professor Gallagher, who is also the Canadian Space Agency’s science adviser. “What’s underappreciated is how motivating the grand projects are.”

Canadians continue to go to the International Space Station. Last month David St. Jacques returned from 204 days in space, a record for a Canadian.

And in February, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will join an American-led program to build a space station orbiting the moon, which is a step toward sending humans back to the lunar surface. The status of that program has became somewhat confused after President Trump announced that he wanted astronauts back on the moon within five years and then suggested last month that Mars should be the destination.

In her essay, Professor Lepore found that one value of sending people to space was that their experiences led to a greater awareness of the fragility of earth’s environment.

“But here’s the hitch,” she wrote. “It’s been 50 years. The waters are rising. The Earth needs guarding, and not only by people who’ve seen it from space. Saving the planet requires not racing to the moon again, or to Mars, but to the White House and up the steps of the Capitol, putting one foot in front of the other.”

—The first openly gay rabbi of a large synagogue in Canada told Dan Bilefsky that “Coming out brought me closer to God.”

—Neil Bantleman, the Canadian teacher who was accused of using magical powers to abuse children and was sentenced to 11 years in prison by an Indonesian court, has been freed after serving five years and has returned home.

—“Firecrackers,” a film set in small town Canada that was made by Jasmin Mozaffari, who is originally from Barrie, Ontario, is a NYT Critic’s pick.

—After the Trump administration imposed duties on Canadian softwood lumber in 2017, a company known as Westervelt spent $190 million to build a lumber mill in Thomasville, Ala. Peter Eavis found that decision may not pay off.

—A relatively inexpensive Zara dress is all the rage in Britain this summer. The cause of its success is not immediately obvious.

—A cycling trail between Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina to Dubrovnik in Croatia has some unusual attractions.

—Australia will hold a referendum on including its Indigenous people in its Constitution. Like all things constitutional, however, how to do that will likely involve much debate.

Sous-vide machines are no longer arcane or costly. Our food writer Melissa Clark offers a guide to their use.



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