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Is Dextre the last hurrah?

…for the Canadian Space Program, that is.

At least that’s the thrust of a recent article in the National Post.

Some background:

But even as Canada celebrates another milestone in its nearly 50-year history of involvement in space, some critics are wondering: Will it be the last?

The shuttle Endeavour will carry the Canadian-built Dextre module — the nickname given to the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator, the “hand” for the massive Canadarm2 robotic arm — to the International Space tation, the last component in Canada’s contribution to the 16-nation project.

The arm, an 18-metre-long, remotely controlled and highly complex construction crane, was installed in 2001 while the Mobile Base System, the “shoulder” for the Canadarm, was brought up to the space station in 2002.

York Space Engineering prof. Brendan Quine is quoted:

Ben Quine, a professor at York University’s Earth and Space Engineering department, said the sudden departure of the former president was cause for concern. “That was somewhat alarming. He had only really been in the job for a few months and it came as a surprise when he left … It was not a good sign.”

Prof. Quine says Dextre’s arrival in orbit may well mark the beginning of a new era in Canada’s role in space exploration, but it is not yet clear what that role will be.

“Canadarm was a great Canadian success story,” he says. “But to some extent, we’ve lost our way in the space industry in this country … I think we’ve got to be really careful about our direction in the future. We need a viable space industry and a vibrant research and development sector.”

*snip*

“Governments don’t typically have much interest in a big space program in Canada,” he says. “But this is an export market that generates wealth in our economy … [and] it’s a high-tech industry.”

Prof. Quine says space and related industries worldwide are worth about $200-billion a year, and that Canada’s share of that business — about $2-billion a year — could dry up without a greater commitment from Ottawa to support it. “If we don’t support our industry, we risk losing our share of that market,” he says. “And it’s a market that’s going to get extremely competitive in the next few years with India and China moving into space.

“We really have to articulate more clearly to governments why it’s important for Canada to fund space exploration … We need to tell our political leaders about the huge benefits space can bring Canada.”

You tell ‘em, Ben!