• October 12, 2007
{mosimage}OTTAWA - In 1957, during the deepening Cold War, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, a basketball-sized satellite that orbited the earth every 98 minutes.

Sputnik did little more than emit a radio-signalled beep, but the Soviet’s technical ability to put the satellite in the sky terrified the West and spurred a space race that has since revolutionized telecommunications, led to myriad technological innovations and space travel.

Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau marked Sputnik’s 50th anniversary with an Oct.  4 news conference, calling on Canada to adopt a space policy. He warned of growing dangers of an arms race in space and urged Canada to exert her influence by remaining technologically competitive.

“If we are going to be a voice in the peaceful uses of space, we have to exert a presence,” said Garneau, who is a veteran of three space flights and the former president of the Canadian Space Agency.

Canada was the third country in space with the launch of Alouette-1 in 1962. Canada has remained an innovator and technological leader in space robotics and space telecommunications. 

Garneau remembered the “buzz” around Sputnik back in 1957 when he was eight years old. He recalls his second grade teacher talking about the “artificial object going around the earth put up by another country” and her prediction that someday people would be travelling in space.

Since then, that prediction proved prescient. There is an “invisible infrastructure we depend on over our heads,” Garneau said, noting that if all the satellites were turned off “you would notice it within a minute,” because cell phones, television transmission and other forms of communication depend on technology in space.

He pointed to the domestic importance of developing a space policy to address security and sovereignty concerns such as monitoring the Northwest Passage; environmental concerns such as climate change or changes to the ozone layer; telecommunications and the linking of Canadians in a vast but sparsely populated country; and space’s role in the development of an innovative economy.

Countries like Brazil, China and India are launching ambitious space programs that could leave Canada sidelined, he warned. Last January, China shot down one of its weather satellites, adding to fears of a new arms race in space.  The United States has plans to use space technology for the development of a missile defence shield.

Canada needs “leadership from the top,” he said. He lamented the fact space has failed to be an election issue. Garneau, who ran unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate in the 2006 federal election, recently abandoned politics to serve as chancellor of Carleton University.

Garneau noted that Oct. 10 marked the 40th anniversary of the Outer Space Treaty that banned weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the use of celestial bodies for military purposes.  

In 1967, when the treaty was ratified, only 10 countries were in space. Now 50 countries are. Garneau noted the treaty needs updating because it only talks about WMD, “it doesn’t talk about all weapons.”

“He should be listened to by the government,” said Douglas Roche in an interview from New York Oct. 9. “I commend what he’s doing in trying to raise public, government and media consciousness on this very subject.”

The retired senator, a Catholic and a disarmament veteran, noted Canada has had a “solid” policy for the past 35 years to keep space free of weapons.

Roche agreed with Garneau that the Outer Space Treaty needed to be updated, pointing out the U.S. Missile Defence shield is a stage in the weaponization of space.

“For me this is a paramount moral issue, to reduce and eliminate weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles,” he said, pointing out space “simply compounds” the issue. He said space as well as the planet should be considered “sacred ground” against the forces of destruction.

“I hardly think that God intended His creation to become a shooting gallery,” he said.

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