Book Review: Canada’s Fifty Years in Space – The COSPAR Anniversary

Technical ability signals a country’s advent into first world status. Amongst abilities, space travel sets the bar as paramount. Some nations with ready access to many people and large quantities of resources ascended and proclaimed their might. Other nations technical prowess came otherwise. Gordon Shepherd and Agnes Kruchio describe one such in their book “Canada’s Fifty Years in Space – The COSPAR Anniversary“. In it, they show that a nation’s limitations in people and resources doesn’t necessarily equate to a lack of technical ability or capability.

Canadians built the Alouette I satellite over a 4 year duration and saw it successfully launched in September 1962. Other than the US and the USSR, no other country had achieved such a feat. Yet, this wasn’t a one-of event. This satellite was a continuance of a Canadian specialty, the study of electron densities above the Earth. Following the launch, further studies added to the scientific knowledge of the aurora and the magnetic fields of the north. Expanding beyond this, Canadians have since studied life sciences and pushed the envelope in the field of robotics. Hence, even without an indigenous launch capability, Canada has made a positive impact in space science by carefully picking and choosing.

Shepherd and Kruchio’s book shows that Canadians have had a busy and productive 50 years in the field of space science. Their book starts with events a little bit earlier than in the title, with funding for studies being available in the early 1930s. Then, adventurers traveled into the cold Arctic winters to take timed exposures of Northern Lights. These stalwart types braved polar bears and isolation to gather the first organized review of one of nature’s most pleasant spectacles. But, their interest wasn’t all for pretty pictures. This book also shows their contributions were a true beginning into the study of the protective ionosphere about Earth. It also shows that as the years advanced, funding expanded. And, consequently, so did research. Rockets and balloons replaced ground-based photography. More people joined in. Yet, as becomes evident, the shear cost of doing research placed more and more restrictions on the scientists. With a fairly recent shift to remote sensing and astronauts, Canada now looks to fund applications of space science rather than delve in pure research. Thus, though barely two generations have passed, this book shows a busy past and a fundamental shift in one nation’s space research.

This book by Shepherd and Kruchio effectively brings together many aspects of Canada’s space science history. Vivid recollections recall the times of luminaries such as Dan Rose, Balfour Currie and Frank Davies. We read of programs that sprout from deep in the rooms of University of Saskatchewan, the launch pads at the Churchill Rocket Range and the laboratories at the DRTE. Devices such as ionosondes, interferometers and Lidar have brief technical descriptions and then a bit longer passage describing their use. Amongst all this data and information, the occasional reprints of some personal diary entries markedly and pleasantly contrast the otherwise dry prose.

As well as being dry, this book’s scope is another weakness. Typically a review of an expanding research field has more entries at the end than the beginning. This book, however, has most of its focus on the early and mid-term, when Canadians were studying the ionosphere. In comparison, the most recent science appears, briefly, toward the end and is like a collection of press releases. This, coupled with an out-of-place first chapter on COSPAR’s formation, detract from an otherwise intriguing review of science and scientists.

Yet, Canadian’s who are interested in knowing more of their country’s space accomplishments would enjoy this book. As well, industry watchers who wonder where some national organizations come from and go to might just get some answers within. And, anyone who thinks they’re too small to contribute could read this and get a great boost to their ego.

From so many perspectives, fifty years is an amazingly short time. But, in the field of science and technology, it’s a vast duration. Gordon Shepherd and Agnes Kruchio’s book “Canada’s Fifty Years in Space – The COSPAR Anniversary” describe some of the scientific progress made by Canadians. With Canada and many more countries contributing to space science, the future years should see equal or greater accomplishments.

2 Replies to “Book Review: Canada’s Fifty Years in Space – The COSPAR Anniversary”

  1. Since when has Canada been to space, eh???

    I don’t mean to sound flippant, but I didn’t know they had their own manned space craft.

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