Strange as it seems when billionaire Guy Laliberte takes-off from Russia on his scheduled September 30 flight to the International Space Station, he could potentially forever be the last known Canadian to blast into space.
Despite its $350-million budget, the Canadian Space Agency based in the Montreal suburb of St. Hubert, is seemingly bereft of any viable plans for future human travel despite selecting two new "astronauts" to join its current stable just two and a half months ago.
Guy Laliberte is the founder/owner of "Cirque du Soleil". The former Montreal "fire-eater", aged 49, has forked-over $35-million to the Russians to become their, and the world's 7th space tourist. He'll board the workhorse Russian supply ship "Soyuz MTS" headed for 12 days to the Space Station at the end of September. Canadian Bob Thirsk, currently on board the I.S.S. also hopped a Russian "Soyuz" to get there. He's due back on earth late in November aboard Shuttle Mission STS-129, one of the very few U.S. space flights remaining. The entire Space Shuttle program is being dismantled come September of next year...therein lies Canada's problem, and the seminal reason our space agency has no future manned flights on its calendar though it is probably desperate to get its hook into one.
America's next venture into space is the "Orion" project and its anticipated first manned flight of between 4 and 6 Astronauts is not expected until 2015. May I hasten to add, Canada hasn't been invited. The sad facts are that despite the glowing coverage of our Canadian media, we've never been much more than a bit player in the conquest of space. We've been indoctrinated into believing our robotics contribution - Canadarm 1, Canadarm 2, and Dextre - are essential to every mission. Unlike some of the elements of other Space Station partners: Russia, Japan, the European Union...to everyone else, in particular the Americans; Canadarm is the shuttle's "robot arm," never mind the red maple leaf on its side.
Next week when enthusiasts mark the 60th anniversary of the first flight of the "Avro Jetliner" in Toronto; just as a few weeks back on the 40th of man's conquest of the moon; we can again remind ourselves that it's our damned fault if Canada has become but a hitchhiker depending on the goodwill of others to advance our own exploration of space and its related technologies.
When the "Avro Jetliner" project was cancelled, and ten years later when the Diefenbaker government scuttled the CF-105 - Avro Arrow - developed by the same Toronto based R.V. Roe Ltd. aircraft designers, engineers and employees; the best of the company's brains marched-on off across the border to lead NASA's manned space programs. (Including Mercury, Apollo and those flights to the moon). Thereby striking a death blow to Canada's acknowledged world leadership in jet and rocket aircraft technology. Good Grief! Too bad then no politician had the sense to fear Canada's brain trust being lost abroad as they do now about Nortel's patents falling into Swedish hands.
Until convinced otherwise, I remain pessimistic that we'll somehow enhance that minuscule role we've inherited in space exploration because of some ill-conceived 50 year old notion from our politicians of the era that our southern Uncle Sam would have "our back" in times of need. Come to think of it: Maybe it's fitting that a circus clown, albeit a billionaire one, could be our last triumph into space.