Space, a realm of extremes, can inspire extremes in those who write about it. The first chapter of former Globe and
Mail science writer Lydia Dotto’s book, Canada In Space, details the triumphant day, Oct. 5, 1984, when astronaut Marc Garneau rode the U.S. space shuttle Challenger to become the first Canadian in space. But Dotto’s prologue, written later, tells of Jan. 28, 1986, when the same Challenger craft and its crew of seven plummeted in smoke as the world watched aghast.
In Dotto’s engaging account of Canadian participation in the West’s space program, optimism about conquering the last frontier is tempered with disillusionment about the present.
Although Canada has played a minor role in space exploration, its accomplishments are impressive. In 1962 it became the third country to put a satellite into orbit. But Canada in Space focuses chiefly on the Canadian
connection to the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): the astronaut program, the Canadarm—the space shuttle’s remote manipulator—and the space station that NASA plans to launch by the year 2000. Canada is committing $800 million to help assemble the station and later to service both it and the shuttle.
The astronomical costs of space projects demand international collaboration. But that co-operation can sometimes produce friction. During
one shuttle launch, CBS news anchor Dan Rather underlined U.S. sensitivities, noting that the Canadarm, which prominently displays this country’s name, is “not just a tool, but a billboard.” And after Canada won the job of developing the mobile servicing centre, U.S. businessmen complained of losing spin-offs in robotics development. With national pride at stake, there will likely be more disagreements in the future. Dotto’s book concentrates on a limited corner of cosmic endeavor, but it is a revealing introduction to the high dramas ahead.
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