Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Bringing Canadian Space Enthusiasts Together

RASC Executive Director Randy Attwood addresses the Canadian mixer at the  IAC in Toronto. Chris Gainor photo.

Conventions provide great opportunities to meet people, and the recent International Astronautical Congress in Toronto was no exception to this rule. Canada's excess of geography means that people like me who live far away from centres such as Toronto and Montreal have few opportunities to network with other Canadians who share common interests.

Having drawn more than 3,000 delegates from around the world, the IAC featured many gatherings of smaller groups, including one that brought together Canadians who support space exploration.

Some belong to professional groups such as the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute and the Canadian Space Commerce Association, or advocacy groups like the Planetary Society and the Canadian Space Society. 

As an American-based organization, the Planetary Society is focused on NASA's planetary exploration program. The Canadian Space Society is working on expanding its membership base beyond central Canada as it tries to make its voice heard in Ottawa in support of Canada's space program.

Probably the biggest space-related organization in Canada is the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, which has more than 4,500 members across the country.

The primary interest of most RASC members of course is astronomy, but many of them closely follow space exploration. The RASC has been focused on providing services for its members, and it has occasionally lobbied to support Canadian professional astronomers. But it has rarely ventured into speaking out about Canada's space program.

The Canadian mixer at the IAC was a rare occasion where members of these various groups could gather to talk about their work and their hopes for Canada's future in space.

Although it will be many years before the IAC returns to Canada, another opportunity to bring Canadian space  enthusiasts together will take place next May 20 to 24, when the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) comes to Toronto.

The ISDC is an annual event sponsored by the National Space Society, an American group that supports more and greater activities in space. The ISDC draws astronauts and top flight speakers from NASA and American space contractors. It has only once before taken place outside the United States - in Toronto in 1994.

Next year's ISDC will attract many Canadian space enthusiasts, which will permit further discussion about how to promote Canada's space program. That could include more joint activities involving Canadian space organizations. 

The recent meeting at the IAC was a "getting to know you" session, and the upcoming ISDC in May will offer a chance for more concrete cooperation between Canadian space organizations, both in making the conference a success and in working together afterwards to promote and build Canada's space industry.

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