Canada plans to send two astronauts on lunar missions.
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced Wednesday, December 16, that a Canadian astronaut will fly around the moon in 2023 on the Artemis 2 mission – the first manned mission of NASA’s Artemis program – that will put NASA’s Orion spacecraft into orbit. around the moon prepare for a landing in 2024. A second CSA astronaut will participate in another mission to NASA’s future Gateway space station orbiting the moon.
The upcoming flight announcements are part of a larger memorandum of understanding between Canada and NASA, also announced Wednesday, formally promising collaboration on the Artemis lunar program that Canada said would commit nearly 18 months ago.
Related: Canadian astronauts talk about Apollo 11 and Canada’s future in space
Simply put, Canada will provide robotics to NASA, and in return, NASA will give CSA astronauts the opportunity to fly lunar missions, possibly even with more astronauts landing on the moon in the future, officials said in a virtual press conference.
“This will make Canada only the second country after the US to have an astronaut in space … and send the first Canadian around the moon,” Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and industry, told reporters during the press conference.
The only people who have ventured out of orbit so far are a handful of American Apollo astronauts, more than nine missions between 1968 and 1972, but NASA wants its Artemis program to include extensive international participation.
Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques invoked the historic Apollo 8 mission of 1968, which tested some of the major spacecraft systems in orbit prior to the first human landing in 1969, as the parallel for Artemis 2.
“It is a mission to achieve the [spacecraft] equipment and navigation; as you can imagine, navigation from the planet will be one of the greatest challenges, “Saint-Jacques said at the press conference (in French, translated into English). Another challenge that the Artemis 2 astronauts will face , is a rapid re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, he added.
Canada will pay for its astronaut seats through its traditional route, which provides useful space robots to aid in NASA’s missions. Canadarm3, a future robotic arm, will be mounted on the Gateway space station for remote maintenance – even when there are no astronauts.
Canadian robot giant MDA – which also maintains Canadarm2 on the International Space Station – received a contract last week to establish the technical requirements for Canadarm3, which CSA first pledged to contribute to the Artemis program in March 2019. The new arm will be equipped with artificial intelligence to give the robot a degree of autonomy when performing scans from Gateway and possibly assisting with repairs.
The moon-bound Canadian astronauts have not yet been named, but Canada has a choice of four: Saint-Jacques (who flew to the International Space Station in 2018-19), Jeremy Hansen (selected in 2009 and still waiting for a mission), and newer 2017 recruits Jenni Sidey-Gibbons and Joshua Kutryk, both of whom previously qualified for full astronaut status in 2020 after completing standard astronaut candidate training.
Notably, Hansen coordinated the entire training schedule for the 2017 astronaut class and acted as a mentor to the recruits, a first for a Canadian who shows NASA’s confidence in Hansen’s work. He also helped plan several troublesome spacewalks recently, including the complex procedures involved in repairing and upgrading a dark matter detector on the ISS known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.
During the press conference, Bains also said Hansen is a “great ambassador” to Canada in promoting the country’s space strategy to policymakers. Hansen himself spoke about the importance of Canada’s participation in international space missions.
“Setting big goals in space exploration – the International Space Station, for example – has strengthened our ability to work together, and that same collaboration is required when we tackle major global challenges such as climate change,” Hansen said in the same press conference.
“Canada just has so much to offer to the global community in my opinion … Space is changing rapidly. The commercial opportunities are huge. There are even new commercial opportunities around human exploration, and even space robotics. What I’d really like to tell you. our Canadian youth, minister, they need to know that our future in space is bright. We draw on decades of experience and dedication to key players in this emerging economy. I think it’s visionary. “
“As Canadian astronauts, I think we are extremely proud to represent Canada in this context,” Kutryk added at the same press conference. “We are also proud to have built our core of highly trained and professional astronauts here at the Canadian Space Agency, all of whom are ready for these missions and the missions that will follow.”
Canada expects to use its lunar capability to test technologies such as rovers on the surface, as well as to practice geology from orbit. Apollo astronauts historically received part of their geological training in Sudbury, Ont. and all current Canadian astronauts have participated in the work with Canada’s Western University, a leader in space geology who periodically conducts Arctic expeditions to collect science in remote environments.
“Canadian scientists are … really interested in studying the geological data of the moon and the geological processes that formed the moon’s surface,” Sidey-Gibbons said at the same press conference. This not only gives us hints about how our own moon came into being, but also lets us know about the composition and characteristics of other terrestrial planets in our solar system. We learn about other moons – icy moons from other planets – and even smaller objects such as asteroids. “
Canadian robotics has been in space since the start of NASA’s space shuttle program, paying for astronaut seats as they were built. The second space shuttle mission, STS-2 in 1981, successfully tested the Canadarm, which was used for spacewalks and robot operations for shuttle missions for the next 30 years. Its massive success led to NASA inviting Canada to establish an astronaut program, and the first Canadian – Marc Garneau – didn’t fly until three years later in 1984.
Canadarm2 was mounted on the space station in 2001 and a robotic hand, Dextre, was added in 2008, confirming Canada’s commitment to manned space station missions for decades. Both are still working and later in his career, Canadarm2’s mandate for spacewalk and space station scans was expanded to help capture robotic cargo spacecraft. Canada also began to conduct more robotic operations from its own space center in Montreal, rather than the United States.
While Canada is a critical contributor to ISS, the equivalent financial pledge of 2.3% is dwarfed by NASA’s more gigantic international partners, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
As commercial crew missions and Artemis missions begin to take shape, there seem to be more international opportunities as there are simply more astronaut seats available for all missions. But for more than a decade, Canada’s small contribution meant that since the space shuttle retired in 2011, the smaller Russian Soyuz spacecraft only had the space to drag Canadians into orbit every five to six years. The last two Canadians – Saint-Jacques and now retired astronaut Chris Hadfield – flew in 2018 and 2012-13 respectively.
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