By FRANÇOIS SHALOM, The Gazette | December 7, 2012

Canada, the third nation to get to space, can and must claim rightful ownership to extraterrestrial technology – and achievements.

Iain Christie, president of Kanata-based space technology firm Neptec Design Group Ltd., told delegates at the Canadian Aerospace Summit that “being a space-faring nation is a birthright of Canadians” – as befits the third country, after the Soviet Union and the U.S., to launch a satellite into orbit in the 1960s.

The aviation and space industry is still digesting – and praising – the comprehensive aerospace review for the Canadian government released last week by David Emerson, a former cabinet minister.

The report urges Ottawa to place space and aerospace at the top of the government’s national priorities – including personal involvement by the prime minister at the key priorities and planning committee meetings.

Emerson said the space sector had been “drifting” in the federal government’s priorities for several years, and that it regularly fell “into a black hole” in terms of the direction and importance it was accorded.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis said that before commenting and acting on the report’s 25 main recommendations, cabinet colleagues must discuss them at length. He did not say when a decision could be made.

But industry executives, including Steve MacLean, a former astronaut and the president of St-Hubert’s Canadian Space Agency, almost universally hailed Emerson’s report at the summit, organized by the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada.

MacLean and Christie, whose firm makes spaceflight sensors, among other things, emphasized the disproportionate importance Canada and Canadians hold in space exploration.

Christie recalled a space-shuttle mission on which he worked as a junior engineer in Houston in 1995 – STS-74 in NASA parlance.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who will launch into space again on Dec. 19, “had to take the Canadarm to pull a Russian module out of the space-shuttle bay, attach it to the shuttle, which then flew up and attached it to the Russian Mir space station,” Christie said.

“It was symbolically and physically a Canadian who, a few short years after the Cold War, took the Russians in one hand, the Americans in the other, and brought them together.

“That is emblematic of the role Canada has always played,” he said.

MacLean also recalled how awed he was during a stint at NASA to discover that John Hodge was a Canadian.

When Neil Armstrong’s Gemini capsule – pre-Apollo – suddenly gyrated out of control, Hodge calmly talked him though to recovery “literally seconds away” from spacecraft disintegration.

MacLean said he was “incredibly pleased” by Emerson’s report.

“And when I heard Minister Paradis say that space is important to the country, this stabilizes us,” he said.

“Just that one observation stabilizes things – it tells Canadians what the space program can do for Canada.”

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