By Wayne A. Ellis
"I watched the Space Age being born, and I would like to participate." – Christa McAuliffe
On this day, 29 years ago, the Space Shuttle Challenger blasted off of its launch pad to a height of some 48,000 feet only to be felled by a minor design flaw that had been exacerbated due to the cold launch conditions. All seven crew members perished – then President Ronald Reagan would later evoke the words of “High Flight” as the US, and many others around the world, came to grips with a rare but heart-wrenching tragedy – but one in particular would become the symbol of the space community’s desire to bring ‘space’ closer to the ordinary people. Sharon Christa Corrigan McAuliffe, out of 11,000 candidates, had been the primary representative of the educational community to take part in the first ever flight of a teacher on the space shuttle.
"Teacher In Space" Project Logo - Image Courtesy of NASA
The “Teacher in Space Project” was instituted by NASA a few years before the tragic 1986 flight (back-up teacher Barbara Morgan would later fly in 2007 as part of a replacement program) and President Reagan himself hoped that having the first-ever teacher go up into space would further enhance the importance of education, and inspire students and teachers. The expectation was that these non-astronaut civilians would bring their knowledge and experiences back to the classroom and to their communities. Over 40,000 applications had been received and the candidates had to go through an extensive selection process. The mission highlight would involve a space-based class taught to students on the ground.
"Christa Experiences Weightlessness in a KC-135" - Image Courtesy of Keith Meyers, New York Times
Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher, grew up during the Gemini and Apollo programs and, like many others, was excited and inspired by space. According to her, she felt that her application had scant chances at best of being chosen, and yet, it was her easygoing demeanor and ‘ordinariness’ that made her stand out amongst the other candidates. In effect, she was, as a teacher and as a person, the ‘connection’ with the everyday person-on-the-street that NASA was looking for to bolster support for the space program. Although she herself felt her more technical crewmates might consider her to be somewhat of an intruder, she jumped right into the regular astronaut training with gusto, and was fully prepared to complete several experiments, as well as two 15-minute ‘space classroom’ sessions with kids back on Earth. Sadly, this was not to be.
On the one hand, while the loss of Challenger could be seen as a step backwards in the goal to portray space as being more accessible (NASA cancelled TISP in 1990 as still being too risky), the end result was the doubling of efforts to bring space into the classroom. Several centers and commemorative institutes were formed whose goals were to provide the necessary resources to support space curricula, and grants were established to assist in raising space’s profile educationally. And, while the space shuttle has been retired since 2011, the International Space Station (ISS) has gained a greater focus for supporting education, research and development in orbit. Recently, a middle school science experiment from British Columbia, after its first attempt had been lost in a launch pad explosion last October, successfully made it to the ISS at a cost of some $25,000. The cost, albeit significant, was overshadowed by the strong motivation and commitment by the local community to replace the experiment on the next available flight.
Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the Challenger loss, and while that day causes us to reflect on all the lives lost, the symbol of Christa McAuliffe should continue to evoke in our education, science & technology communities the energy and excitement to further find new and innovative ways to support space learning for Canadians. The Canadian Space Society (www.css.ca), whose goal is to connect all and ordinary Canadians to space, has recently partnered with the Western Canada Aviation Museum to establish a space art/history exhibit, as well as conduct several space workshops (via local educators) in the February to March timeframe. Through these types of events, the CSS hopes to encourage more Canadians - educators, scientists, students, and others - to better appreciate our own ‘Space Age’, and even more, participate.
Wayne A. Ellis is a Board member of the Canadian Space Society and a member of the local Winnipeg Chapter.
Note: the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of Manitoba is a special contributor to the Winnipeg show, presenting striking scientific images of the cosmos professionally made by local astronomers. Dr Jayanne English will be leading a "Cosmos to Canvas" workshop related to this activity on 7 February (click here for registration; seating is limited).
Marc Fricker became president of the Canadian Space Society (CSS) on December 1, 2014. Marc talks about how he got involved with the CSS, what our mandate is, and what direction we’ll take over the next 2 years.
What lies ahead for the Canadian Space Society? Find out from our new president.
Q.How did you get involved with the CSS?
A. Following a military secondment to the Canadian Space Agency, I wanted to stay in touch with the space community in Canada. The CSS was a good option for me as there are chapters across the country wherever I was likely to be posted. I joined in 2008 and immediately began working on the local organizing committee for Summit 2009 in Kingston, Ontario.
Q.What is the Canadian Space Society all about?
A. The CSS is a grassroots advocacy group of space professionals and enthusiasts. We’ve promoted Canada’s role in robotic and human space exploration since 1983.
Although much of our work is through industry, government, and academia, we connect with the largest audience possible. We want to tell Canadians, and people outside of Canada, about our space activities over the past 50-plus years.
World Space Week October 4-11 2014
Every October 4-11, the world gathers to celebrate World Space Week, the largest public space events on Earth. The theme for 2014, “Space: Guiding Your Way” features the benefits of satellite navigation to society. Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) have transformed modern life here on Earth, they include constellations of Earth-orbiting satellites that broadcast their locations in space and time, networks of ground control stations, and receivers that calculate ground positions by trilateration. GNSS are used in all forms of transportation- including planes, trains, ships, and is even used in our location based mobile phone applications.
It is with great pleasure that the CSS formally welcomes Dr Damya Souami as the new Session Chair for Astronomy. Dr Souami will be a key national point of contact for members, chapters, partners and the general public for items involving the astronomy profession and pastime. Details regarding her duties can be found here.
About Dr Souami:
Dr. Damya Souami completed her PhD in Celestial Mechanics, with honours, at the University Pierre & Marie Curie (Paris 6), France in December, 2012.
In 2005, she was accepted into the Erasmus exchange programme, which is an exchange programme for European students in European universities. She spent a year in the United Kingdom, at Cardiff University, completing her 3rd year in the joint mathematics and physics programme. There, she had the honour of working with the late Professor Alexei Lvovich Ivanov (1957-2010), who is the "the greatest scientist"that she has had the opportunity to work with. Professor Ivanov supervised her B.Sc. thesis entitled,"The Weak and Strong Coupling Limits in Light-Matter Interaction, Polaritons".