Thursday, July 23, 2015

Part 2 of The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program

Cancelling the Arrow; A Government Not Interested in Space; Sounding Rockets, 

the Black Brant & Velvet Glove

January 1959 CAS submission to Prime Minister Diefenbaker.
By Robert Godwin
The general confusion during the late 1950s about the merits of missile defence led to several questionable strategic decisions made by the Governments of Canada and the United Kingdom. 
The possibility of a third contestant in the Space Race, in the form of a Commonwealth space program hinged on the sharing of technology and financing amongst the various invested nations, but more significantly on the political choices made regarding the future defensive postures of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
On January 12th 1959 Phil Lapp and the members-in-council of the Canadian Astronautical Society (CAS) sent a brief to Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker urging him to support Canada’s involvement in a Commonwealth Space Program. In part the brief said, "Canadian participation in the program would be of great value toward sponsoring and maintaining in this country a nucleus of scientists and engineers proficient in the vital space research frontier, and at the same time permit this country to take its rightful place in the astronautical field."

The brief then went on to urge the government of Canada to send up to four scientists to London to attend the already-planned Commonwealth space summit. The response from Diefenbaker was swift and essentially said that he was deferring to his Defence Minister; Victoria Cross winner, General George Pearkes. On February 6th Pearkes replied that the government was not in a position to be sending either participants or observers from the CAS or from any other organisation to either the symposium or the IAC in London.[1]

Surprisingly the Defence Minister showed no interest in sending anyone to learn the latest information about missiles, which was, of course, what everyone would be discussing at IAC. This was all the more remarkable considering what happened two weeks later. On February 20th the Government of Canada withdrew their support for the CF-105 Avro Arrow fighter interceptor program, in favour of missiles; specifically the Boeing Bomarc-B medium range surface-to-air nuclear missile.

A Government Not Interested in Space

The day before replying to the CAS Pearkes had been in a secret cabinet meeting at which his own Chief of Air Staff had told him that in his opinion, regardless of the geopolitical state at that moment, Canada would still need 100 to 115 top-notch interceptors with which to defend itself.[2] But at the exact moment when Pearkes was discarding his fighters and committing Canada to missiles he seems to have chosen to disregard the potential importance of missiles for space research...

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"The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program"

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Robert Godwin.
Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books. He is also the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum

He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music. 

His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.


1. Proceedings of the CAS Vol 1 No 1 Feb 1959
2. Minutes of Cabinet Defence Committee Feb 5th 1959

Last Week: "The Beginning; How to Build a Space Program & the Canadian Astronautical Society," in part one of "The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program."

Next Week: "A 50th Anniversary; Rocket Interceptors; Buy American & Blue Streak," as part three of "The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program" continues!

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