The ISS is an important arm of the Canadian research effort, and renewing our financial support for it is a wise choice.

Andrew Terefenko

Opinions Editor

 

After some closely scrutinized deliberation, Canada has agreed to continue its support of the International Space Station beyond 2015. This might not sound like groundbreaking news, but then again, there is very little ground to break in the vacuum of near-Earth orbit, so let’s take a minute to reconsider the implications of this development.

The ISS has brought us immeasurably closer to understanding the effects of long-term weightlessness in correlation with bone deterioration and muscular atrophy, which is a constant concern when planning the fabled “missions to Mars” which would take upwards of six to seven months to complete one-way. In addition, the station conducts some important research on the effects of cosmic rays, from a location that is not distorted by our precious, malicious atmosphere. The ISS is our stepping stone into competent understanding of interstellar travel, so it is imperative now more than ever that we continue our invaluable support for the project.

There was a brief moment of uncertainty, when our nation was asked to continue working with the occupied orbiter, where we were unsure whether to pledge as far forward as 2020, the year that analysts predict will be a final one for the station’s ongoing operation. Luckily, the decision came down, and rightfully so, as Canada has always been (and should continue to be) a major player in the modern space race. This is doubly true in the face of the U.S. enacting severe budget cuts on their space programs, which have decreased in half over the last 17 years in their share of the overall federal budget.

So why is this important now? One of our own is heading up to the ISS by the end of this year for a customary six-month term, so should we not ensure that his stay is as comfortable and productive as possible? It would reflect poorly on us as a technologically advanced nation to pull any iota of support from the entity that has so graciously employed our renowned Canadarm for more than its expected decade of usage.

Where should we draw the line for support, however, in light of a dire economic crisis here on the ever-fragile ground? It can be debated and argued, but I must admit that we must focus on our immediate financial concerns where immediacy is concerned. For every dollar we inject into the space program, I would argue a twice-over need for education funding. Each time we send an astronaut into space, that is (at least) one less exceptionally trained person that serves our own national interests.

Advocacy for the devil aside, I am completely supportive of the full and thorough backing of Canadian space expenditures. We often exude a feeling of stability and fiscal conservatism, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we shouldn’t invest in risky endeavours. Progress is gained through guided faith, and when it comes to space travel, the progress may seem too far away to want to invest in, given that any fruits of labour would not be seen in our lifetimes.

The financing of modern life is a fickle matter, but I am glad that Canada has taken the leap and invested in seeing the ISS through its final years. It will put us in a good position to rear its successor and make sure that Canada is a word that is synonymous with scientific pride, and long-term damage caused by cosmic rays. Not because we want it, because we are worth it.

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