Participants at the 3rd Canadian Space Exploration Workshop (CSEW), being held in Montreal this weekend, were among the first to hear that Canada wants to go to Mars.
In a pre-banquet speech on Saturday night, former astronaut Dr. Marc Garneau, now serving as Executive Vice-President for the Canadian Space Agency announced that the CSA would be expanding its space exploration efforts over the next several years, with Mars research being a major focus. The announcement came on the 40th anniversary of President Kennedy's stirring and oft-quoted call for an American presence on the moon.
"We have the expertise, it's highly visible, and there is momentum," Garneau said, referring to a recent increase in studies on the red planet, as well as an upsurge in public interest.
Although Garneau was unable to provide exact figures, he did say that the iniative would come with an increase in funding that would be 'an order of magnitude' larger than what currently exists. For the second day of the workshop attendees were tasked to plan a mission that would cost approximately $C500 million. He also answered concerns about current projects by saying that the plan was to preserve them. "This is a ramping up, not a shift," he said.
CSEW attendees were given the program's catch phrase ("Allons-y! Let's go to Mars"), and then charged with drawing up a wish list of objectives for a Canadian Mars mission and interim research. It is too soon to tell what form a mission might take at this point (ie., oribiter vs. lander), but it is clear that the mission will be by default a collaborative effort between the CSA and another space organization with launch capabilities.
Although the question and answer period directly after the announcement revealed some concern about the risks and costs involved in this bold iniative, most CSEW participants were enthusiastic about the plan. The move represents an opportunity to raise the public profile of space sciences in Canada, and develop a more significant Canadian presence in the international space exploration scene overall.
The objective of the Canadian Space Exploration Workshop is to develop a vision for Canadian involvement in national and international space exploration missions and to identify the key technologies required in order to successfully achieve the scientific goals. Participants include members of the scientific and engineering communities from academia, industry and government.