Artemis delay won't stop Canada's space industry from blasting off, says minister
Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne says the moon rocket program secures Canada's place in history
When NASA scrubbed Monday's launch of Artemis I, the space agency's latest rocket to the moon, Canada's minister of innovation, science and industry was on the ground Florida's Kennedy Space Center to hear the news.
A combination of bad weather and engine trouble forced NASA to delay the launch until as early as Friday.
The only crew on board the start of the Artemis mission, Artemis I, will be three mannequins and a plush Snoopy. But their unmanned trip will be a key step in returning humans to space. Artemis II, set to launch in 2024 or 2025, will have four astronauts — including a Canadian — orbit the moon.
The last time anyone was on the moon was in December 1972.
Although Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne is going to have to wait to see another rocket launch, he says this mission is already setting in motion a new chapter of space exploration with Canada in the front seat.
"We want, obviously, the launch to be safe — and Canada will be front and centre," he told As It Happens guest host Katie Simpson. Here is part of their conversation.
I'm sure that there's a better way to put this, but the delay, it's really kind of a bummer, isn't it?
Yes, it is.... But you know what? When you talk to the NASA folks, they say listen, this was a test flight. This is a very complex mission. We're going to go back to the moon. We've waited almost 50 years for us to go back to the moon, so whether it's [in] a few days or a few weeks ... I'm not sure in the arc of time this will really matter.
Why would you, as a Canadian minister, be there to sort of witness what is going on and what Canada is contributing to this conversation and to this program?
We are the strategic partner of NASA. And it's also about diplomacy. It's almost like space diplomacy where you bring the case for Canada.
Obviously, we've been with them since [the first] Canadarm, [a robotic arm that supports space missions].... Now we have Canadarm 3, which is going to be essential to build what they call the lunar gateway, which is really that space station that will be in orbit around the moon. And why we are so relevant is because this station is not going to be manned for most of the time, so you need the Canadarm basically to do repair and maintenance. So we are essential to the success of the mission.
For those of us who are a bit older, we remember watching the Apollo mission from our TV. Now we're part of the story. So the young kids who are watching today can see that, in Artemis, we're not watching. We are part of this story…. That, for me, is very inspiring.
What do you say to Canadians who might be looking at ... how much money the Canadian government is investing in programs like this? And they look around the country and [see that] there are major challenges at home, you know, [and] that the money could be spent elsewhere?
I'm sure that when we had the Apollo mission, people were asking the same questions here in the United States: Why should we go to the moon, and what could it bring?
I think now, with the benefit of 50 years looking back, we've seen the number of things that came from the space program that have improved lives on Earth. I can think of GPS. You will remember the microwave and so many other things, which are now part of our daily lives.
Canada focuses on … two things: food and health. This [mission] will have very direct applications in our country in terms of remote location. How can you keep people healthy, for example, with remote medicine? How can you grow food in harsh environments?
I think history has demonstrated that when we push the boundary of science, technology and innovation, we all benefit.
Watch | What going back to the moon means for humankind:
One thing that is different from 50 years ago is [SpaceX founder and CEO] Elon Musk and sort of the private industry that is getting involved when it comes to space travel. Why not just leave this to private industry and let private investors deal with this? Why get involved as a government?
I think we want to do both. You know me. I'm not going to stop there.
We have a number of companies [which] are going to do commercial space activities and I want us to be part of that. And I think that if you see for example MDA, which is a prime Canadian company in the space industry, they [have] already started to have contracts with the commercial space exploration companies. So what we do on the public side is also leading our private companies to build a position in that very new market, I would say, which is the space economy.
And you know what? This is good [for] jobs back home. This is good for Canadian scientists and students. And the more we can do, I think that we will secure our place in history when it comes to space and space exploration.
What are you hoping for? What are the big picture things that you want to come out of something like this?
I want Canada to be part of this new book about space exploration. This is probably about the next 50 years. It's paving the way to send humans back to the moon and beyond. And for Canada this time, not to be watching it, but to be in it, is much more inspiring to me and I hope to many Canadians.
We'll be the second after the United States to be in orbit around the moon. And I am very hopeful [for] the future.
Written by Mehek Mazhar with files from CBC News. Interview with Minister François-Philippe Champagne produced by Kevin Robertson.