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Ewan Reid poses with colleagues and a rover. Photo courtesy of Ewan Reid.

A conversation on space exploration with local scientist Ewan Reid

By Apartment613 on September 20, 2018

Post by Alejandra Vargas García

Ewan Reid, president and CEO of Mission Control Space Services, will discuss Canada’s role in sustainable space exploration on September 20th at 12:15pm at the Ottawa Public Library. We spoke with him about the relevance of the space industry and the critical need for Canada’s leadership and investment in this field.

Ewan Reid would humbly tell you that his career in the space industry involved an element of luck with regards to his job opportunities after college. A lot of hard work, training in fields like engineering, economics and technology innovation management led him to help design three rover prototypes for the Canadian Space Agency, serve as an operations engineer on the NASA Space Shuttle Program, and ultimately develop Mission Control Space Services.

Mission Control Space Services delivers low-cost, innovative solutions both in space and on Earth. Its key goals are to extend access to space for all and to facilitate Canadian contributions to the space economy.

Why the space industry matters

When asked about the relevance of the space industry, Reid highlights its profit-making nature and the fact that rapid changes in technology are driving costs down, which creates room for smaller companies to enter a field previously limited to big telecommunication firms.

“We need space… we wouldn’t know climate change is happening were it not for space.” For Reid, space exploration is the logical next step for humans and a source of inspiration. In a context of inequality, conflict and the rise of populism, space has the capacity to remind us of our commonalities as Earthlings. “We have to find a way to live together on this tiny blue dot that is Earth”.

With regard to the most interesting applications of the space industry to address Earth’s problems, Reid points out that satellite technologies are integral to watch weather patterns and make the case for behavioural changes. Likewise, the desire to have more satellites in space offers the possibility of increased wifi access in remote communities across the globe.

Canada’s role in the space industry

Canada was the third country in space. That fact, combined with the legacy of the Canadian robotic arm and Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space, are points of pride amongst Canadians.

“Canada has all the existing pieces in place to sustainably engage in space mining. Yet, this is not happening.”

However, over the last 17 years, the budget devoted to the Canadian space agency has declined. Canada’s budget is one seventh of NASA’s. This trend is a stark contrast to the efforts by countries like the UK and Luxembourg, who is investing heavily in space mining. Reid argues that a Canadian re-engagement in the space industry is critical.

“Canada has all the existing pieces in place to sustainably engage in space mining. Yet, this is not happening.” Reid foresees a risk that companies could increasingly leave Canada if they don’t see adequate support, and the country could end up lagging too far behind.

Space mining is an area where Canada can take a leadership role and inspire the general public. Reid points to the progressive nature of Canada’s climate change policies and highlights that the country can play an integral role in ensuring space mining is carried out through a sustainable framework. Canada’s government needs to prioritize investments in space and develop a long-term balanced space strategy, alongside the financial resources to implement it. A balanced strategy would involve investments in technology development, STEM education outreach, and big exploration programs.

“Canada can put a rover on the moon and definitely prove the presence of water, with a relatively small financial investment.”

Strengthening capacities through educational programs

A valuable effort by Reid and his team is Mission Control Academy, an educational program for youth aged 12 and above focused on training on science and mission design. Participants can execute mission simulations, benefiting from Mission Control’s proprietary software, which allows them to drive a rover from their computers.

What youth learn in the process is the relevance of teamwork, strategic communication, and problem solving. Reid’s work emphasizes the strength of diversity, as teams are composed of students who might have once thought that skills in math and engineering were the sole prerequisites to work in the space industry.

Along the way, the lesson that emerges is that complementary skills in areas like communications, law or design are also critically needed in the space industry. This opens up a world of possibilities and inspiration for people, like me, fascinated with the prospect of contributing to unravel what lies beyond.