Wednesday, November 3, 2010

 

GOOD; BAD AND HAND ME DOWNS

A story which made the circuit of domestic wire services last weekend caused me to reflect about Canada's shrinking contributions to innovation in technology. The story in question deals with National Defence's desire to buy Presidential helicopter cast-off from the United-States as spare parts for the 14 remaining Search and Rescue 'Cormorant' helicopters.

Our helicopters, bought in 1998 and in-service in 2004, aren't that old. The fleet has however faced a series of problems and currently has a shortage of spare parts. After investing more than $3-Billion on its own fleet of three such helicopters: "Marine One" to ferry the President, the U.S. Administration has cancelled their deal as a cost cutting initiative. That's where Canada wants in: Far too willing we are these days to seemingly accept cast-offs and hand me downs from our allies.

Sixty years ago, In the aftermath of World War II and for decades thereafter Canada was a primary leader in the fields of space technology and aviation development amongst the industrialized nations of the world. Our C-102 passenger jetliner flew in August of 1949, ten years before the Boeing 707. It was built by A.V. Roe Canada of Downsview, Ontario, and that success was followed by the astounding technological advancements of the AVRO Arrow jet fighter capable of sustained Mach 2 flight as early as 1958.

In 1972, Ottawa based Telesat Canada launched Anik A-1, the world's first domestic communications satellite capable of maintaining geostationary orbit. Though Telesat is still the fourth largest space communications company in the world; it is now 64% owned by Loral Space and Communications of Delaware.

Canada's contributions to the U.S. Space Shuttle program, and subsequently to the international orbiting "Space Station," by way of the robotic CanadArm are well known. But; with just two shuttle missions remaining, and no U.S. replacement planned, it seems that we'll be forced to hitchhike with pretty much any one who will have us if Canadians expect to continue contributing to the Space Station for its remaining lifespan until the scheduled phase-out in 2020.

Like his new "Marine One" choppers, President Obama has already killed "Project Constellation," his predecessor's return to the Moon program in advance of a U.S. manned Mars mission. Optimism it seems spring eternal: Late in June Canada's Space Agency called public bids to develop two "Lunar Exploration Light Rover" prototypes to be..."upgradeable for short distance crew transportation for one or potentially two astronauts." Okay! That tender call came just days after the agency gave a $10-Million contract to Space X of California. The company is owned by the founder of E-Bay, Elon Musk, and its cargo space crafts have a roughly $2-Billion contract to re-supply the "Space Station," once the last Shuttle Endeavour mission flies in February. Space X hopes some day to fly humans into space, apparently the Canadian Space Agency is already in the boarding lounge with a $10-Million ticket. I hope that it's "Business Class," the wait could be long.

If we are not already quite there yet; there are good signs and ample evidence that Canada's efforts in space and aviation technologies and development are becoming increasingly marginal. Maybe just as much as has our Military's once storied and iconic "Peace Keeping" role to the world has been marginalized. To say nothing of our status with the United Nations Organization.

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