Forty-four years ago, NASA achieved their greatest accomplishment when they were able to successfully send a group of astronauts and land the Apollo 11 on the moon. Today, engineers, astronauts, and scientists are getting closer to finding the means to place humankind on their next great landing: Mars.
Aerospace technology is continuously evolving and Canada is one country whose contributions will not go unnoticed any time soon.
The Canadarm is obviously the flagship of our contribution because it was and still is a central element to build the Space Station, says Jean-Claude Piedboeuf. Without the Canadarm2, it would have been impossible to build the Space Station because there was no way the astronaut could manipulate the elements to assemble [it].
Piedboeuf is the acting general director of space exploration with the Canadian Space Agency. He says Canada has also been very active in space astronomy, an aspect of space exploration.
Canadians have been contributing to the development of a Light Detection and Ranging system, which functions like a radar but emits light into the atmosphere in order to detect clouds and particles. We have been using it on Mars to analyze the atmosphere, says Piedboeuf. That is how we found that there is water in the atmosphere. This was a very important discovery made on the Phoenix mission by NASA.
In 2020 NASA plans to launch a new rover to Mars in order to address key questions about the potential for life on Mars. According to Piedboeuf, Canada will be contributing an element of the rover and its vision system.
We are not expecting to find any living thing but to find a trace of life that exists in the past; that's really a key question because if we can find life outside of Earth, it will change the perspective that means life can be developed elsewhere, he says.
Along with a rover on Mars, there is also the development of a similar device that will be sent to the Moon in order to examine how we can extract resources such as water, oxygen, and eventually fuel.
To be able to extract fuel and subsequently launch a rocket from the moon knowing that when we launch something from the Earth, most of the mass is fuel, if we have to send a big mission to Mars, the ability of generating fuel from the Moon could be very interesting, says Piedboeuf.
Spaceflight for commercial purposes is also on the horizon.
NanoRacks is an American company that provides microgravity research facilities on the International Space Station.
Ian Fichtenbaum, vice-president of Near Earth LLC, a boutique investment banking firm that provides services for NanoRacks, says they specialise in a lot of small payloads and making it accessible on the retail level.
This means that other researchers, students, and even government agencies are all able to access the ISS in order to perform small experiments, deploy small satellites, or do other commercial activities.
Fichtenbaum also says they will have the ability to also put experiments on the Virgin Galactic vehicle, and are in the process of building the equipment for it.
Virgin Galactic is a company at the forefront of commercial spaceflight. Founded by Richard Branson, their main goal is to provide a means to launch tourists into space. By the end of 2013, the company's SpaceShipTwo, and carrier craft WhiteKnightTwo that will itself launch the rocket aerially, is expected to take six passengers (plus two pilots) on a first ever commercial suborbital space flight.
With new innovations and ideas being generated every year by scientists, engineers, and researchers, the possibilities of Canada's and the world's contributions to our future spaceflight endeavors are endless.
The future of spaceflight is a long-term, ever-increasing capability industry, says Fichtenbaum. It's sort of slow moving but its direction is upwards.