In an attempt to engage young people in space science, the Canadian Space Agency is launching the Junior Astronaut Program, a series of activities and workshops for schools, science centres and community groups.
The program offers a curriculum-based set of activities that can be done in the classroom or at home using simple materials, but which illustrate the many different aspects of living in space. Aimed at students in grades 6-9, activities follow three streams: science and technology, fitness and nutrition, and communications and teamwork.
Activities range from designing a lunar rover to taking the physical test astronauts must pass before being accepted for training.
The beauty of the space sciences is that they involve just about every subject area: physics, geology, biology, health science, engineering, botany, to name just some. All of this combined knowledge will be necessary if humans plan to live off the planet, either in orbit on the International Space Station, on the Lunar Gateway station orbiting the moon, in a lunar surface colony or in a habitat on Mars.
Canada is already committed to the ISS and the Lunar Gateway project, and if we’re going to be a partner in missions beyond that, we’ll need qualified astronauts in the future.
Schools that participate in this program and individuals who have gone through all three streams can enter a draw to win a trip to a summer camp held at CSA Headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Que., where they will meet Canadian astronauts, scientists and engineers for a week of space training.
Canada has been part of the space program from the very beginning. We were the third country in space after the Soviet Union and the United States. Our first satellite, Alouette 1, launched in 1962 (on an American rocket). Interestingly, the world’s first two satellites, Sputnik from the former Soviet Union and Explorer 1 from the U.S., have since fallen out of orbit and burned up in the atmosphere, but Alouette is still up there.
Since then, Canadian scientists and engineers have worked on the early manned missions, flights to the moon and provided scientific instruments for robots sent to the planets. Nine Canadian astronauts have flown in space. This tradition will likely continue as humanity heads back to the moon, on to Mars and beyond. And to do that, we will need an educated population from which to draw qualified astronaut candidates.
Using space travel as a hook to get kids interested in these subjects could also provide a fun way to learn the school curriculum whether they become astronauts or not. And science education will be important if we’re to face the many pressing environmental challenges here on Earth.