Julie Payette ponders her possible future as an ex-astronaut while pundits and commentators speculate on whether current astronaut Chris Hadfield will return to space anytime soon and everyone else seems to want the Russians to launch more rockets. All that and more on this second day after Canada Day, this week in space for Canada.
Our first story this week comes to us via Canadian Press. According to the June 25th Montreal Gazette article “Astronaut Payette hanging ’em up,” the Canadian icon will be:
“remaining on Earth for the foreseeable future, according to recent reports. Payette, 46, told the Canadian Press this week that the Canadian Space Agency “doesn’t have any plans” to send her back into orbit on a future flight”
Of course, we shouldn’t feel too concerned because Canadian ex-astronauts traditionally have had very little difficulty getting good jobs.
Ex-astronaut Roberta Bondar recently finished up her second term as the Chancellor of Trent University. Ex-astronauts Marc Garneau and Steve MacLean both went on to head the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) with Garneau eventually moving into politics as the liberal MP for Westmount–Ville-Marie. Kenneth Money, the only one of Canada’s original astronauts never to get into space is now President of the US based National Space Society while ex-astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason recently returned to teaching at the University of Western Ontario. Our only other ex-astronaut, Dr. Dave “Dafydd” Williams, has likely got the “daffiest” ex-astronaut gig as a speaker with the National Speakers’ Bureau but even he isn’t unemployed or homeless and living on the streets.
So the context of Payette’s comments must have more to do with what she once expected but isn’t presently able to accomplish at the CSA than with any concerns over future employment opportunities or making ends meet.
This is where it starts to get interesting because the genesis of her statement seems to originate in the summer of 2009 when the broad outlines of a potential Canadian long term space plan were gestating deep within the CSA. At that time, the consensus was that there should be a break between astronaut Robert Thirsk’s six-month mission on the International Space Station (ISS) and the next Canadian mission to the ISS, expected to occur around 2012, in order to provide the CSA with time to implement and work out the kinks in the long term space plan.
According to the August 1st, 2009 Canadian Press article “Space agency says next Canadian astronaut blast-off unlikely before 2012,” the next Canadian mission was then expected to be a six month long duration mission using a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. CSA President MacLean was quoted in the article as stating that “if we have a mission by 2012, I’ll be happy.”
Julie Payette had just returned from her own stay aboard the ISS at the time those statements were made and it’s quite likely that she was following them closely. After all, Steve MacLean was her boss then too.
This is where our second story comes from because astronaut Chris Hadfield was quite likely considered the prime candidate for the next Canadian long term stay aboard the ISS when the preliminary planning was being done for the mission in early 2009.
But those plans were never finalized because the long term space plan couldn’t win the approval of the Conservative government and so the follow-on Hadfield flight slid off the radar and into the realm of rumor, gossip and innuendo. However, rumors persist and this one slowly gained traction through posts in the German based SPACEFACTS: Manned Spaceflight schedule (where Hatfield is listed as part of the Expedition 34 crew scheduled for launch in November 2012), the recent Spaceref.ca article “Canadian Veteran Astronaut Chris Hadfield Slotted as Expedition 35 Commander” and ongoing mentions in the more traditional media outlets.
Even Hadfield’s recent training regime has been focused around a long term stay aboard the ISS and includes a two week rotation as leader of NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), which is sometimes considered as a precursor to a long duration flight.
The persistence of these rumors and Hadfield’s ongoing training seems to indicate that the CSA would really like the rumors to be true. But it’s also possible that Payette realized that her chances to fly again were nonexistent if the already planned Hadfield mission couldn’t be confirmed within a reasonable period. Without a framework like the long term space plan to structure future missions around and no real need for her considerable skills, it’s possible that Payette has decided to look for a new job outside of the CSA.
It will be interesting to see if Hadfield ever goes into orbit. At the very least, it’s going to be a difficult thing to do once the American shuttle program finally winds down next year.
Which brings us to our final story. According to the July 1st, 2010 Spaceflight Now article titled “Europe, Canada eye extra Soyuz for station access,” European and Canadian space officials:
“are in talks with Russia to purchase dedicated Soyuz capsules to ferry their astronauts to the International Space Station. The discussions focus on continuing crew transportation services after 2015, and possibly expanding European and Canadian astronaut access to the orbiting lab before then.”
Of course, the article takes pains to point out that all talks are “preliminary” and there is likely no money in the CSA budget to pay for a Soyuz flight should they find the Russian’s open to the suggestion. All of which makes perfect sense when you realize the CSA, lacking a government sanctioned plan of action in the form of an official long term space plan has decided to simply start making things up as they go along.
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.