By / par Rob Thacker, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)
I can’t begin this President’s message without first acknowledging the important and amazing work done by all the officers, committee members and staff of the Society. Thank you all so much. Whether it is volunteer work or paid, your service to the Society is absolutely fundamental to making us move forward on numerous important issues! While I would not normally single out an individual, I am compelled to thank the now Past-President Bob Abraham for setting an incredibly high bar for activity in the President’s capacity! Thank you Bob!
My first few days in the Presidency have been something of a whirlwind and it has been hard not to feel overwhelmed! As many of you are aware, especially following this year’s town hall meeting at CASCA, our space astronomy portfolio is in a dire situation with no official major commitment to new missions since 2009, other than the replacement for Hitomi, XARM, following the unfortunate events of 2016. The recent dropping of Canadian participation in WFIRST has been a major concern for our community and is particularly disconcerting as we consider moving towards missions with significant Canadian leadership, such as CASTOR.
This series of events has reinforced the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy’s view that moving our space astronomy needs forward with government is a major priority. Hence the Coalition, represented by Guy Nelson (Empire Dynamic Structures), Don Brooks (UBC), Sarah Gallagher (Western) and myself, made a visit to Ottawa on June 12th to discuss space astronomy in detail with the NRC, CSA and Ministry for Innovation, Science & Economic Development. Since the Coalition maintains a non-partisan position we also met with Conservative Science Critic Matt Jeneroux. The tone of the meetings was constructive, and we repeatedly emphasized the need for long term and sustained funding of space. But ahead of the upcoming Budget consultation process it was equally important for us to listen for what was being asked. Perhaps as might be expected, we need to outline the benefits we provide to society and economics to garner the major investment we need. It is also worth remembering that there are many other fields of space-based science that face similar funding problems to us.
At the same time we are seeing concern growing about how we develop and maintain our ground-based projects. I have already been involved in ACURA discussions about MSE, while writing letters of support for Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic as it, yet again, faces the threat of closure. As we build towards LRP2020 there are a great many issues to think about. TMT continues to evolve towards a site decision, the outcome of which will have ramifications across many areas. The SKA is moving towards some key decision points on Phase 1, while the precise level of Canada’s participation still needs to be negotiated. Plus I’m sure we can all appreciate that Dr Greg Fahlman’s replacement at Herzberg will enter the position at a highly critical time, so it is no surprise the community is strongly interested to see who is eventually chosen for this key position in Canadian astronomy.
In terms of action, over the next two months, the Coalition for Canadian astronomy will submit our response to the pre-Budget consultation process as well as exploring some new avenues of communication with important policy makers. The members of the Coalition are cautiously hopeful we can move things forward, but as many of you know following the length of time it took to gain funding for TMT participation, persistence and a coherent and uniform message will be needed. We anticipate we may well end up asking the community to help with the lobbying effort – stay tuned!
Despite these uncertainties over funding, our community continues to make strides on many fronts. Having worked closely with the Equity and Inclusivity Committee over the past 18 months, I am incredibly impressed by the work they are doing to provide information to help us improve our working environment. As emphasized in numerous workshops on equity issues, improving participation and working climate is a benefit for everyone.
I am truly honoured and frankly very proud to serve the CASCA community. I really look forward to meeting and working with you all over the coming two years. As always, there’s a lot to get done!