Canadian astronauts predict new lunar missions

Past and present Canadian astronauts predict a new round of lunar missions to prepare for trip to Mars.

Future moon exploration likely to be shared between countries

Marc Garneau, seen in this 2004 file photo, says he hopes Canadians are part of an eventual mission to Mars. ((CP))
The first Canadian in space remembers exactly where he was when NASA astronauts including Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin entered the moon's orbit and prepared to touch down on its surface for the first time.

Marc Garneau was 20 years old and had just crossed the Atlantic Ocean aboard a 59-foot sailboat. With no TV on board, Garneau listened to coverage of the landing on the radio.

"We were going up the Thames [River], it was 3 a.m. I was on duty, and had the shortwave radio on. It was a beautiful, moonlit night," Garneau recalled during an interview with CBC News. "I couldn't help but think, here I was on a sailboat, using this ancient technology, you could say, while men were going to the moon."

Garneau, a former naval officer who now sits as a Liberal MP in the House of Commons, says despite feeling dazzled by the historic landing, it did not steer him toward his eventual career as an astronaut.

"It heightened my interest, but I didn't think it would lead to me becoming an astronaut," says Garneau, who would lift off aboard the space shuttle Challenger 15 years later.

Canadians felt excluded

Steve MacLean speaking to reporters in 2006 at the Kennedy Space Center after returning from a 12 day space mission aboard the space shuttle Atlantis. ((CP))
Another young Canadian astronaut-to-be shared that combination of wonder and self-skepticism.

Steve MacLean, now president of the Canadian Space Agency, was a teenager on summer vacation with his parents in Nova Scotia when Apollo 11 lifted off.

Like Garneau, MacLean says the event generated a lot of excitement, but no serious pretensions of one day going to space.

"I knew it was for Americans only, and I was a Canadian kid. I never thought I could be on a rocket like that," MacLean told CBC News.

MacLean did eventually fly into space: first, as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Columbia, and again as a mission specialist on the Atlantis.

Roberta Bondar was the first Canadian woman to reach space. She was visiting her parents in her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., when Apollo 11 touched down on the moon.

"I remember looking out at the moon in the backyard, and saying to my dad, 'There's someone up there, Dad, and I want to go up there someday," Bondar recalls.

Bondar said it didn't occur to her at the time that astronauts were all men. It wasn't until years later, after she'd entered medical school, that Bondar says she clued in to the fact no women had gone into space.

"Then, the space shuttle came along, and in 1981, I heard women were going to be in the program in the United States. I had butterflies just knowing the opportunity was going to exist."

Eleven years later, in 1992, Bondar took off on her only mission to space, as a payload specialist on the shuttle Discovery.

Return to moon a must

While flying into space was a dream come true, Bondar now says the space shuttle program is limited in what it can teach people about the universe, or even the rest of the solar system. Bondar says it is essential humans return to the moon.

Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar now keeps a busy schedule giving conferences on space and medicine. (Courtesy Roberta Bondar)
"[The first Apollo landing] was really a mark in our history, because it was the first time that we stepped on another world. A space station is something people are doing, and it's kind of nice. But we're creating that world. It's an artificial world," Bondar told CBC News.

MacLean believes it is essential that humans return to the surface of the moon in preparation for more ambitious space exploration.

He says the moon makes the perfect training ground for an eventual mission to Mars.

"Returning to the moon is important, to get more operational experience on the surface of something a lot closer [than Mars]. The moon is only three days away," MacLean says.

Such a trip would be expensive. The Apollo program of the late 1960s and early '70s cost American taxpayers $30 billion US at the time – the equivalent of about $175 billion today.

Garneau says generating the public interest – and willingness to spend that kind of money – to fly back to the moon, and eventually on to Mars, may be challenging. He predicts it will be accomplished only if countries combine their efforts.

New moon landing will be global effort

"It will require a greater deal of international co-operation. Space can really bring us together, and an international mission to Mars would bode well for humanity," he says.

Jeremy Hansen, 33, was named to Canada's space program in May, 2009. ((Sean Kilpatrick/CP))
If a new round of lunar landings is in the works, as the U.S. and some other countries have suggested, Canada's youngest astronaut says he hopes to be one of the lucky few to step down onto the dusty, barren surface.

Jeremy Hansen, 33, was born nearly seven years after the first moon landing. He was named to the Canadian Space Program last May, and has yet to begin his basic training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Hansen appears excited about the possibility a new lunar exploration program could be launched.

"It's really motivating to think that we could go back, and not just stay a short while, but to create a permanent human presence on the moon," Hansen told CBC News.

Asked if he thinks he might one day be selected to follow in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Hansen is optimistic.

"Yeah, I do. I absolutely have a hope that I will at least be part of a team that takes humans back to the moon in the next 10 years or so.

"And, that it could be me who walks on the moon."