Sunday, July 10, 2011

Is Mars a Part of Canada's Space Future?

One of the people involved with the ongoing Canadian discussion flowing around the development of an informed Canadian space policy is Randy Shelly, who most recently contributed to my January 11th, 2011 blog post "Favoring Informed and Spirited Public Discussion."
Morning on Mars, December 18th, 2008. From the Desi Colors website.
He's a subject matter expert with the Department of National Defence (DND) Surveillance of Space (Sapphire) project and a former Canadian Space Agency (CSA) project manager involved with the SCISAT-1 Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment (ACE) satellite.

Here's what he thinks about recent comments by Liberal MP Marc Garneau, regarding the proposal for an unmanned Canadian mission to Mars:
Randy Shelly.
I was pleased to read about Marc Garneau pushing for an all Canadian Mars mission as outlined in the July 4th, 2011 Postmedia News article "The Next Horizon: Former astronaut Marc Garneau, talks about being first, seeing Earth from space, and what should be next — Mars."

This might seem overly ambitious to many Canadians, even some in the space sector, but it would have many benefits for Canada and it does not have to be an expensive project.

The benefits to Canadians include further technology development in areas where we already excel, and international reputation, which is of value beyond the space sector.

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about a human mission to Mars, but while this seems to be an exciting prospect, in order to assure a safe mission, the costs would be high and the real benefits of little value. We have already proven that we can land people on the Moon and return them to Earth so repeating it for Mars would be more of the same.

I am not suggesting that a human mission to Mars will not eventually happen, but I believe it is many decades in the future; and within those decades, robotic technology and artificial intelligence will have developed to the point where adding people to a mission would have little or no benefit and would increase costs at least by a factor of a hundred. The future of space exploration is definitely in the area of robotics and those who develop that technology will be in the best position to benefit.

What most Canadians would be interested in is the return on the investment for our government’s expenditure on such a project: A Canadian Mars mission would be an excellent means for Canada to advance our robotics and artificial intelligence technologies to the next level. In addition to opening up opportunities for the sale of Canadian technology, the enhancement of Canada’s reputation from a Mars mission, would encourage other countries to look to Canada for other technology products.

Canada already has a reputation for cost-effectiveness in the space sector and a Mars mission could be done by using the methods that we have successfully used to get back a lot for our investments in our past programs. I would like to see the Canadian Space Agency challenge industry and universities to design a complete mission for under $150 million. This cost-capping approach initially might not be entirely successful, but at least it would lead us in the right direction to finally arrive at the best value for money spent.
For more coverage relating to Marc Garneau's recent comments, please see my July 4th, 2011 post "Ground Control to Marc Garneau" and my July 5th, 2011 post "A Nautilus-X for the Next "HMCS Bonaventure."

Dusk engulfs Parliament Hill, July 5th, 2011. A new dawn always follows.

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