President’s Report

By / par Rob Thacker (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2019)

Dear CASCA Members,

I hope the new Year is treating you well! With LRP2020 getting underway and the release of the Space Strategy it seems like things never slow down. This message comes with both good and some not quite so good news but let us begin with some great news!

LRP2020

While it feels like yesterday since I wrote my last President’s message, not only have we announced the appointment of Pauline Barmby and Bryan Gaensler as Co-Chairs of LRP2020, we have also put in place the additional panel members, consisting of Matt Dobbs, Jeremy Heyl, Natasha Ivanova, David Lafreniere, Brenda Matthews and Alice Shapley as the external member. I’m sure you will all join me in thanking everyone for taking this important and challenging task on – as we all know, there is much hard work ahead for the panel!

With the white paper call going out, LRP2020 is truly underway and I want to strongly encourage everyone in the community to participate in the LRP process. Having been through two reports I know that some of the most difficult writing assignments are actually those for which there has been limited input. Pauline and Bryan are doing their utmost to ensure as many channels of input as possible are available and everyone in the community should feel that their voice will be heard.

The LRP process is a marathon not a sprint. We’ll likely all feel exhausted by the end – so spare a thought for the panelists! But only after we have explored every avenue, considered and debated as many possibilities as we can muster, can we be confident in setting a plan for the next ten years. Equally importantly, the LRP Implementation Committee carries much responsibility to respond to the challenges that cannot be foreseen. So, the next time you voice some concerns about the decision one of these groups may have made, just ponder for second what they’ve likely been going through, and then of course, speak your mind!

Coalition Activities

I cannot discuss Coalition activities without again thanking my Co-Chairs, Don Brooks as the Executive Director of ACURA, and Guy Nelson CEO of Empire Dynamic structures. As always Duncan Rayner of Temple Scott and Associates continues to provide advice. The past few months have been particularly active and challenging as we have tried to move forward awareness of astronomy’s funding concerns while, as everyone is aware, the Government made significant new investments in science through the 2018 Budget.

Following on from a successful fall visit, the Coalition again visited Parliament in February. As I mentioned in my winter report, we have taken an approach of meeting as many stakeholders as possible to build as much awareness of astronomy in Ottawa as we can. This time around we were fortunate to have a meeting with representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as some key members of the Standing Committee on Finance. One interesting development is that some of the MPs chose to request to speak to constituents, so we had fun building “Team Coalition”. So, without further ado, I pass on my most sincere thanks to my teammates René Doyon (Université de Montréal), Judith Irwin (Queen’s University), Laura Parker (McMaster University) and Nathalie Ouellette (Université de Montréal) for giving up their time in support of this important exercise!

Coming away from the day of meetings we all felt things had been successful. Importantly, we received an update on space-science funding and were told that it was a significant priority. Overall, we came away feeling a strong sense the message was getting home, and indeed we now have an open offer to host a reception on the Hill in May. Stay tuned for more details.

Canada’s Space Strategy

Less than a month after our visit to Parliament came the announcement by Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada’s new Space Strategy. I invite everyone to go and read the document, but remember it is high-level policy.

As I write this, the precise implications of the space strategy on astronomy are not yet clear. However, we do know that the vast majority of the $2B announcement, over 20 years, is focused on the Lunar Gateway. There are smaller supplementary programs in technology development for lunar exploration (LEAP) as well as a young astronaut program. Of course, new investment in space is always welcome and I’m sure you will all join me in thanking the Government for moving this important part of Canada’s innovation platform forward. This is clearly good news for our colleagues at the Canadian Space Agency.

But I am sure many of you have quickly realized that this announcement does not signal any new investments in space-based astronomy. It’s worth remembering we have not had any commitment to a new space astronomy mission since 2009 (the Hitomi replacement XRISM being excluded) and other than the immensely anticipated James Webb Space Telescope, our direct involvement in missions in the 2020s is currently nonexistent. While we have been able to leverage involvement in Euclid, we cannot hope to have a strong space-based astronomy portfolio if our only route to involvement is secondary support by ground imaging. If we truly wish to build on the expertise and ideas that we have in Canada, ideally to step forward and lead a significant international mission, we are going to need investments to match. Our concerns are also shared by the planetary exploration community. Having been in touch with some of the senior members of that community, it is clear that several important missions in space exploration (whether by massive or massless particles) have very pressing funding needs that the new strategy does not appear to be addressing, at least right now.

That said, I sincerely hope my current skepticism is misplaced. The Joint Committee on Space Astronomy is going to be updated post-Budget on the precise ramifications of the space strategy, and I look forward to talking with my colleagues at the CSA more about the future of Canada in space. It is always possible that the new space strategy investments could lead to reallocation of funds to space-based astronomy.

Needless to say, the Coalition will continue to make our community’s concerns heard.

Thank you!

In the meantime, I would like to thank everyone who contributes their time voluntarily in support of CASCA, and of course our staff as well! Being a volunteer can be a thankless task, so I would like to pass on my heartfelt thanks to everyone that donates their time, particularly our committee members and, as always, e-Cassiopeia editor Joanne Rosvick!

Our community would not be where it is without you!

Happy Vernal Equinox!

Rob

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