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article imageFive amazing Canadian space facts you should know

By Jack Derricourt     Mar 16, 2017 in Science
With the announcement that Canso, Nova Scotia will be host to a new satellite launching rocket pad in the not-too-distant future, it’s the perfect time to show off some of Canada’s noteworthy space exploration facts.
The first thing you think of when you contemplate the Great White North is probably not space travel. But Canada’s current government is placing a big emphasis on innovation and technology as part of its economic program — and the developing commercial space industry could become a big part of that evolution. So where does Canada stand in terms of its culture of space travel and exploration as it wades into this vast ocean of possibility?
The Churchill rocket pad
While the announcement of the Canso, Nova Scotia site for future satellite launches is big, it’s important to note that it’s not the first time rocket launch sites have been proposed, or even regularly used, in Canada. Located outside Churchill, Manitoba, the Fort Churchill rocket pad was established in 1954 by the Canadian Army to study how auroras affected communications. It was used off and on for atmospheric sounding rockets over the years. Then in 1995, private company Akjuit Aerospace announced it would be pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into efforts to open the site as ‘Spaceport Canada’. As you can probably guess, the project never really got off the ground due to a lack of financial interest.
The AuroraMAX project amasses photography and data about the Northern Lights, as well as other more generalized phenomena like sunspots and space weather. This amazing joint project between the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Astronomy North, the University of Calgary and the city of Yellowknife regularly posts some of the most beautiful pictures of the Aurora Borealis on their Twitter feed, so check it out.
Astronaut Stephen K. Robinson anchored to the end of Canadarm2 during STS-114  2005
Astronaut Stephen K. Robinson anchored to the end of Canadarm2 during STS-114, 2005
With Canadarms wide open
Always at the top of any Canadian Space Science Greatest Hits, but for good reason, the Canadarm1 and Canadarm2 represent the biggest commitments the government of Canada has made to the scientific exploration of space. For 30 years, the original Canadarm manipulated satellites as well as cargo during the Space Shuttle Program’s voyages into the Earth’s orbit. It wasn’t designed to function in Earth’s gravity, and wasn’t able to hold its own weight here on the surface — but in orbit, it could lift up to 266,000 kg, compared to a paltry 30,000 kg of lifting capacity back on Earth. Now, the ISS has been fitted with the Canadarm2, so that the next generation of satellites, cargo and experiments can benefit from that special Canadian touch.
Canadian astronauts are awesome
If you haven’t heard of Chris Hadfield yet, I honestly wonder if you’ve been living under a rock. He’s real-life famous for being the first Canadian to walk in space, and he’s Internet famous for his tweets and videos aboard the International Space Station — including his performance of David Bowie’s orbital rock and roll. There must be something about musical Canadians and space exploration: Julie Payette, the second Canadian woman in space, sang with the Montreal Symphonic Orchestra Chamber Choir — before she became the chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency, and then a director of the National Bank of Canada. And then there’s Canada’s current minister of transportation. Yep, you guessed it: he’s also an astronaut. The CSA is currently picking its next two astronauts, and you can follow their selection process on YouTube.
Brand new rocket pad
It’s worth repeating — the Canso, Nova Scotia site opening would be huge for Canadian space initiatives and commercial aerospace projects in the country. Flocks of rocket enthusiasts, a chance for Canadian tech and research groups to get on board with satellite launches close to home and a big boost to Canada’s reputation as a destination for all things technology would be a giant step forward. Digital Journal readers — and writers — are already clamoring about the prospect of a short drive to watch a satellite rocket launch.
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