Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Canadian Perspective on NASA Changes

The cat is finally out of the bag with the Monday release of the Obama administrations budget proposal for FY2011 and various Canadian pundits and self appointed experts have already begun to weigh in on whether the changes are good news or otherwise.

Kevin Shortt, President of the Canadian Space Society in a CTV News interview (available online at said that "we are at day zero" of the new budget and the winners and losers are still to be determined while York University astronomer Paul Delaney, states unequivocally that Canada's space program is "looking for a quick right turn towards the Europeans" as a result of the budget (his CTV interview is available online at

Global National News ran a short piece quoting from a variety of sources (including a seven second clip of me) under the title "Obama's deficit plan cuts NASA funding" during their February 1st National Newscast while Canadian Press author Peter Rakobowchuk discussed how the "Canadian aerospace industry says Obama budget presents a great opportunity."

The Rakobowchuk article, perhaps the most comprehensive in the Canadian mainstream press, includes comments from Claude Lajeunesse, CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada ("a great opportunity for Canadian companies"), Carole Duval, a spokesperson with the Canadian Space Agency (who is quoted as saying the agency is reviewing the Obama budget and will speak to NASA "to see how we can work together on these initiatives), Christian Sallaberger, VP and Director of space exploration at Macdonald Dettwiler and Associates (who says his company "can definitely support the plan.") and even me again (I think I'm becoming a pundit).

The general consensus (mine included) is that Canadian space focused business and the CSA are well prepared for what's happening in the US.

But what about Canadian scientists and science policy makers? After all, a lot of the science we do in Canada is in cooperation with others and some of those people (especially in space) are Americans doing work for NASA.
Are scientists and policy makers in Canada prepared for that "quick right turn toward the Europeans" as predicted by Paul Delaney?

Evidently they're not. Perhaps the only disappointment over the last few days is the complete lack of editorial comment in science focused media such as the Science Canada blog, the Science Media Centre of Canada (SMCC) website or even the science policy news section of the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC).

The SMCC hasn't had an update since December 15th 2009 (just after their appointment on December 9th of "veteran science journalist Penny Park as the inaugural Executive Director") so maybe it's unfair to expect much from them but Science Canada blogger Jeff Sharom has been posting stories every couple of days to the site since the site went up and it seems logical to provide at least some commentary on stories he's already posted such as "Obama to cut NASA's Moon Plan" and "NASA to Explore Private Space Flight."

Of course he's just a grad student so perhaps we shouldn't be too harsh even though his lack of voice is typical of the Canadian science focused blogsphere.

But the biggest disappointment simply has to be a total lack of any kind of coverage whatsoever in the science policy news section of the CSPC. The site (which grew organically out of the 2009 Canadian Science Policy Conference) doesn't even mention the changes at NASA or how this will effect hundreds of researcher presently working under CSA contracts or for other major Canadian players who subcontract to NASA or other US firms involved in space focused activities.

As well, there seems to be no articles or discussions anywhere of the international collaborations and partnerships required to undertake large scale science (an example of which is discussed in my article "Thirty Meter Telescope Awaits Construction Funding"). Actually there are no discussions anywhere on the site since the discussion forums are offline, awaiting the transfer "of all the old discussion topics from our previous website to the newly redesigned website."

These are obvious errors that the people interested in science policy in Canada should be addressing.

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