This week in Montreal the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Space Exploration Advisory Committee (SEAC) is holding one of its periodic meetings and you could have attended the open session except for the fact that no one knew about the meeting other than the CSA and SEAC members. Why is that?
The CSA lists its advisory committees and working groups on its site but there was no mention of this weeks meeting. SEAC’s mandate is as follows:
- To advise the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) on the Space Exploration element of the Space Science Program. This includes advice on priorities, areas of research, selection mechanisms, funding areas and extent, cooperation with various international partners, etc.
- To assist the CSA in the evaluation of proposals.
- To express the concerns of the Canadian space exploration community to the CSA.
- To keep the community advised of opportunities and events related to the CSA Space Exploration element, as well as to the overall CSA space program.
What is not spelled out on the SEAC page and for which the public is not aware of is that a portion of the SEAC two day meeting is open to the public. Anyone who is interested can request to sit in and observe the committee meeting. I had the opportunity to sit in on one of the meetings as an observer representing one of my other affiliations, the Mars Institute, which has a vested interest in what happens at these meetings. Agenda’s and meeting notes are sometimes published on the web site but not always, but should be:
“Every effort will be made to engage the applicable scientific community in the workings and deliberations of the committee. To this end, agendas of regular meetings of the committee will be posted on the CSA web site at least one month prior to a meeting, inviting members of the community to suggest items to be added to the agenda. Members of the applicable scientific community will be informed of meetings through the CSA web site and any other means as deemed appropriate, and may attend the open portion of committee meetings as non-invited observers (at their own expense). For logistical and security (when meetings are held at the CSA HQ) reasons, CSA must be notified in advance of the attendance by non-invited observers.”
So how did I know about this meeting? I was informed by one of the members of SEAC, Dr. Stephen Braham of Simon Fraser University who also happens to be a fellow director with me at the Mars Institute. As well Stephen tweeted about the meeting today encouraging more Canadians to participate.
Participation is another issue which irks me about this committee. With all due respect to the committee members, the committee is not wholly representative of the space exploration community in Canada. Only academia is represented on the committee. I’m told at one time industry was represented, but because there might be the perception that industry was in conflict for potential contracts with the CSA, industry representatives were eventually removed from the committee. If that is the case then I have a problem with that. It’s obvious the same conflict is there for academia. After all they receive contracts from the CSA as well. And what about organizations like the Mars Institute? The Mars Institute is a non-profit research institute. Organizations like the Mars Institute are excluded because they don’t qualify as academia. And what about student organizations such as Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) Canada? Shouldn’t young leaders be included?
I think it’s time that the CSA reconsider how it’s committee’s and working groups are formed and consider including representatives from other interested parties other than academia. As well they should so a better job of informing the public about these meetings and releasing their meeting notes.
After all, it is the public who fund the CSA.
CSA Science Advisory Committees:
Space Science Branch, Science Advisory Committees, Terms of reference and procedures
I am the co-founder of SpaceRef which owns this space media site as well CEO and President of the Mars Institute and I am also a director of the Canadian Space Commerce Association.