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The Amazing Canadian Space Race – #CSAtweetup

5 Oct

Recently Jesse and I were invited to tag along with the latest group of #CSAtweetup tweeps, who participated in an event put on by the Canadian Space Agency called the Amazing Canadian Space Race.

It was the first event of it’s kind involving astronauts and ordinary members of the public (as far as I know). It took for the form of the popular TV show The Amazing Race, but pitted two teams against each other, each lead by one of Canada’s astronauts.

Jesse went with Team David, while I was with Team Jeremy.

The event took the teams around Toronto and highlighted the many players in the Canadian space industry – from government, to education/research – including York University – and private business.

It’s actually pretty amazing how much Canadian space industry is based right here in Toronto.

In any case, here is the video and written special report that I filed for Sun News Network:

Video not loading? Watch it here.

Canadian astronauts took to the streets of Toronto this week as part of the Amazing Canadian Space Race.

The event was part of the 65th annual International Astronautical Congress, the world’s premier space conference bringing together private, government, and military partners from around the world.

Astronaut’s Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques were each joined by members of the public and sent on a day-long adventure around Toronto, visiting education and industry partners, connected to Canada’s space industry.

“We’re one of the few early space-faring nations, and you have to remember is that everything we do in space comes back down to Earth,” said Saint-Jacques.

He also pointed to the record of job creation in the private sector, as a result of Canada’s wise investments in space technology.

The President of the Canadian Space Agency, Walter Natynczyk, opened the race by wishing the teams good luck and pointing to the significance of the event, “We have representatives here of the leadership of Canada’s space program. In this community here in Toronto, we’ve got great companies that have created incredible innovation that has been launched into space over the years.”

Setting the tone, he added, “Today is a day of discovery; it’s a day of hot competition.”

After the remarks, Hansen read the first clue for his team: “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a dragon by the toe, if it hollers, don’t let it go,”

Once teams deciphered the clue, they had to complete the task. Only once each task was successfully completed would teams receive the next challenge.

A subsequent challenge took the teams to the Department of National Defence’ Department of Research and Development Canada, where the astronauts were put through an obstacle course that is typically used to test new equipment materials.

From there, team Hansen went to York University while team Saint-Jacques was dispatched to Optech.

At those sites, each team was faced with a laser-based challenge connected to the OSIRIS-REx mission, set to launch in September 2016. This task was designed to expose participants to the Canadian technology that will be flying on the mission, designed by Optech to create a 3D map of the surface of an asteroid using lasers.

The last stop on the journey was at the Ontario Science Centre, where the teams went head-to-head to design, build, test, and fly a prototype Mars lander using only house-hold materials that could be found at hand.

“What better than to have real astronauts here trying an experiment that often we have with our visitors,” said Maurice Bitran, CEO of the Ontario Science Centre.

While both teams successfully accomplished the Mars landing challenege, the judges ruled that team Saint-Jacques’ spacecraft made better use of simple machines, propelling them to victory.

Jesse Rogerson, a participant and gracious winner said, “It really doesn’t matter who won. The astronauts were so fun to be around, so as a team, as a group, both teams really did win.”

“Events like this really get the word out and get the public involved,” Rogerson added.

Saint-Jacques explained the involvement of private industry in space will only create more opportunities for Canadians – not only to go to space, but here on Earth.

“You may not realize it, but it’s part of our everyday life,” he said.

Robin Williams amazing space shuttle wake-up call from 1988

12 Aug

Reprising his role from “Good Morning Vietnam”, Robin Williams made the inaugural wake-up call to the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1988 during the mission STS-26.

Williams’ wake-up call was the first of the mission, and the flight was the first space shuttle flight since Challenger exploded during launch in 1986.

In the video of the wake-up call from NASA, flight controllers can be seen laughing along with the recording from Williams.

“Gooooood morning Discovery! Rise and shine, boys. Time to start doing that shuttle shuffle. You know what I mean. Hey, here’s a little song coming from the billions of us to the five of you,” Williams is heard saying.

Williams died on August 11 after an apparent suicide.

He was 63.


Ukrainian dispute takes toll on space cooperation

5 Apr

A version of this article appeared on Saturday across the Sun Media chain.

Amid the ongoing dispute between Russia and the west over Ukrainian territory, the American government added their space agency to the list of government agencies prohibited from contacting Russian officials.

The International Space Station, which is the focus of NASA-Russian cooperation, is however exempt.

In a memo to employees, NASA Associate Administrator Michael O’Brien wrote, “This suspension includes NASA travel to Russia and visits by Russian government representatives to NASA facilities, bilateral meetings, email, and teleconferences or video conferences. At the present time, only operational International Space Station activities have been excepted.”

The internal memo was posted on the website

When asked for comment on the NASA-Russian relationship, the Canadian Space Agency provided the following statement: “While the Government views the current situation in the Ukraine with great concern, the Canadian Space Agency will continue to work with its Russian counterpart to ensure the safe and effective operation of the International Space Station.”

Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield also offered his take on the impact of the international dispute on space agencies.

“Both Russia and the United States, and all international partners (including Canada,) have huge multifaceted programs going in all different areas at the same time.

“It would be great if everybody was always together on everything, but we surely aren’t. This isn’t the only area of dispute between nations. Canada and the U.S. have areas that we dispute all the time, and yet we cooperate on most things,” he told me in a conversation we had on March 21.

Currently, three Russian cosmonauts, two U.S. astronauts and one Japanese astronaut are living aboard the orbital outpost. The International Space Station orbits 400km above the surface of the Earth at a speed of 28,000km/h.

Hadfield continued to explain his wide perspective on the issue, “You remember that I used to intercept Soviet bombers in Canadian airspace in the late ‘80s (as a Canadian Air Force pilot), and in ‘95 I helped build the Russian space station (during Space Shuttle mission STS-74)”.

Hadfield has flown into space three times: in 1995, 2001, and most recently in 2012-2013.

His first two flights were aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle. His five month flight in ’12-13 was to the International Space Station, which utilized a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft. His stint on board the station also included becoming the first Canadian to command the outpost in March 2013.

He also explained that the International Space Station program is not being driven by politics over a, “thousand-year-old dispute,” and called the orbiting laboratory, “a visible example of cooperation.”

In response to NASA’s decision to cut ties with Russian counterparts, Scott Pace, director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute told Reuters, “If we want to express our opposition to their actions I hope that we would choose other instruments.”

11 things you may not have known about Chris Hadfield’s time in space

16 Mar

This article also appeared on Sun News Network,, The Toronto Sun, and other Sun Media properties to celebrate the first anniversary of Chris Hadfield becoming ISS commander on March 13, 2013.

After arriving on the International Space Station on Dec. 21, 2012, Chris Hadfield took the reins of command on March 13, 2013 — becoming the first and only Canadian to command humanity’s most distant outpost. During the mission, Hadfield flew nearly 100 million kilometres during a five-month stay in space.

Here are 11 things you might not know about his time in space:

1. Hadfield has flown into space three times: On the Space Shuttle Atlantis in November 1995, on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in April 2001, and to the International Space Station from December 2012 – May 2013.

2. Hadfield was the first and only Canadian to board the Russian space station Mir while in orbit, which he did during the STS-74 mission in November 1995. On this mission, Chris was also the first Canadian to operate the Space Shuttle’s Canadarm while in space.

Haruna, a large and powerful tropical cyclone, wreaks clockwise destruction across Madagascar. @Cmdr_Hadfield tweeted Feb. 23, 2013.

3. During Hadfield’s first spacewalk — the first spacewalk for any Canadian — on mission STS-100 in April 2001, he was temporarily blinded when his spacesuit’s anti-fog solution got into his eyes. He recovered after about 30 minutes and successfully completed his mission, which was to install the new Canadarm2 on the ISS. Over two spacewalks he spent nearly 15 hours “outside”.

4. During Hadfield’s time on the ISS, he gained about 950,000 followers on Twitter.

5. Hadfield filmed the first music video ever made in space: his version of David Bowie’s 1969 hit Space Oddity. Before recording though, Chris asked his son Evan to re-write the lyrics to exclude the lines about the astronaut dying. The video debuted on YouTube on the eve of Hadfield’s return to Earth (May 13, 2013) and today has more than 22 million views. On his own Facebook page, David Bowie posted, “It’s possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created.”

6. Hadfield has spent a total of 166 days in space, including 14 hours 53 minutes and 38 seconds of time “outside” on his two spacewalks in April 2001.

7. Hadfield unveiled Canada’s new $5 note from space on April 30, 2013 while he was aboard the ISS. The new bill features two Canadian-built robots: Canadarm2 and the satellite-fixing DEXTRE. The note also features an image of Hadfield from his 2001 spacewalk.

8. Hadfield was the first, and to this date only, Canadian ever to be commander of the International Space Station. He took command on March 13, 2013, and held it until his return to Earth on May 13, 2013.

9. The now infamous Toronto Maple Leafs collapse in Game 7 versus the Boston Bruins in the 2013 NHL playoffs took place while Hadfield was re-entering the atmosphere on his return to Earth. Hadfield — a die-hard Leafs fan — had even substituted his NASA-regulation undershirt for a Maple Leafs T-shirt for his fiery return to Earth. The first phone call he made after landing was to his wife, who had to break the news about the Leafs loss via satellite phone.

10. Hadfield, while ISS Commander, surprised his crewmates with an Easter Egg hunt for the holiday in 2013.

11. Hadfield was the fourth Canadian to fly in space when he first flew in 1995 (Marc Garneau: 1984, Roberta Bondar: 1992, Steve MacLean: 1992). He is one of two Canadians to visit space three times (Garneau: 1984, 1996, 2000), and one of nine Canadians to venture to the final frontier at least once (trained astronauts: Garneau, Bondar, MacLean, Robert Thirsk, Bjarni Tryggvason, Dave Williams, Julie Payette, Hadfield; Cirque founder Guy Laliberte bought a ticket to the ISS in 2009).

— On Twitter: @HarrisonRuess