Status Report

Marc Garneau: “Canada’s Vision for Mars”

By SpaceRef Editor
November 15, 2002
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Speaking Notes for Marc Garneau

Canadian Space Exploration Workshop 4

Crowne Plaza Hotel

20:30, 15 November 2002

Ottawa, Ontario

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for the warm welcome.

I am particularly pleased to be here with you this evening at such an exciting time in our nation’s history.

This is a time of great opportunities, and great challenges for Canada’s Space Program.

A time that is giving birth to a bold, new vision for our country’s future in space based on a forty-year legacy that has both astonished and inspired Canadians and the world.

A time when Canada stands poised on the threshold of the greatest adventure that humanity has ever undertaken…

We are gathered here this weekend to give life to that vision.

To determine how Canada might one day contribute to international initiatives to explore the planet Mars.

I am especially delighted to see so many young faces in the audience this evening.

Exploring Mars is a long-term activity; you are indeed the future of space exploration for Canada.

The ideas you will contribute this weekend may help shape Canada’s future—not only in space, but also here on Earth, since our quest for Mars may lead to scientific and technological breakthroughs that might improve the lives of Canadians and the world.

The allure of Mars holds a special appeal for us.

One of the most easily recognizable objects in the night sky, Mars has certainly captivated our imagination.

Our innate curiosity leads us to dream of exploring Mars, learning more about its secrets, and one day, setting foot on Mars as we have on the Moon.

We hope that by looking outward into the depths of the universe to planets like Mars, we may find answers to some of the most basic questions about life here on Earth:

  • How did the Earth evolve?
  • How was our solar system formed?
  • Is there water—and possibly life—on Mars?
  • Is there life elsewhere in the universe?

The search for life on Mars is one of the driving scientific issues.

The implications of finding life somewhere else than on Earth would be of the highest scientific importance, but probably more importantly, the impact on society would be profound.

The philosophical implications of finding life elsewhere would be fascinating—to know for certain that we are not alone in the universe…

Exploring Mars will be the next major international space program after the International Space Station.

The Station is now well underway. In fact, it is literally being built in space by Canadian technology—a sophisticated robotic system know as the Mobile Servicing System.

Canada has already delivered two out of three of the main elements of its contribution—Canadarm2, and the Mobile Base System. The final component, a smaller, two-armed robot for delicate, precise work, is slated for launch in 2005.

As many of you may be aware, Canada is already off to Mars.

As we speak, a Canadian scientific instrument, known as the Thermal Plasma Analyzer, or TPA, is on its way to Mars on board the Japanese satellite Nozomi.

The principal investigator of TPA, Andrew Yau, is in the audience tonight.

When it reaches Mars in 2004, the Thermal Plasma Analyzer, or TPA for short, will provide the scientific community with valuable information on the origin and composition of Mars’s atmosphere.

TPA is a highly advanced instrument consisting of a sensor mounted at the end of a boom and connected to a central power and controller unit.

Once in the orbit of Mars, the boom will unfold and extend the sensor away from the Nozomi satellite in order to avoid interference from the spacecraft itself.

TPA will then take measurements of the very lowest energy particles and gases in the Martian atmosphere.

This information about the charged particles surrounding Mars will also help us determine the radiation levels that astronauts may face when they eventually land on Mars.

But Canada has the knowledge and the technical capacity to go even further in using our unique areas of expertise to support international missions to Mars.

Canada has outlined two main science priorities for Mars exploration that are based upon our proven areas of excellence:

  • Atmospheric studies; and
  • Surface/Sub-surface exploration to unlock the secrets of Mars by studying its geology through robotics and automated exploration.

In the long-term, we may also consider how we can contribute to advanced life support systems and human exploration protocol development, both areas in which Canadians have done some very forward-thinking research.

We must also recognize that the technologies and the ideas we develop, and the knowledge we gain should also serve a larger purpose—even larger than a mission to Mars!

Canada has developed criteria that will govern our participation in missions to Mars.

Clearly, the Canadian public must support our involvement in these future missions.

Our involvement must be science-driven, using Canadian technologies, and must fill a void in the international Mars exploration strategy. And, naturally, any project we undertake must make the appropriate launch window. Going to Mars is incredibly challenging, much more challenging than anything we have ever done before.

And as we look towards Mars, we must ask ourselves how the innovations we will develop can help life back here on Earth—how the advances we make in science and technology can be applied to address issues affecting all Canadians.

In some cases, the link to Earth applications will not exist, but in some cases, it just may.

The Canadian Space Agency has a vision to expand and apply knowledge of space for the benefit of Canadians and of humankind, and, in doing so, to inspire through excellence.

Involvement in future missions to Mars could help advance, among others, the development of mining techniques and technologies.

This would allow Canada to maintain its international reputation as a world leader in the industry.

It would help Canadian companies remain competitive in global markets, especially in resource-based, harsh environments.

And there may also be advantages for Canadians in their daily lives.

For instance, MD Robotics, the Brampton-based company that built the Mobile Servicing System, is also working with the Seaman Family Medical Research Center at the University of Calgary Foothills Hospital on a project called “NeuroArm”—a robotic tool for neurosurgery that is the most advanced medical robotic device available in the world.

Advances made in the areas of atmospheric studies and remote sensing could help us monitor and protect the environment of planet Earth—the only hospitable environment that we know.

These are but a few examples of the potential that lies before us.

Pending funding from the Government of Canada, we have begun to chart a potential course for Canada’s future contributions to Mars exploration.

Canada’s earliest possible involvement would be in 2007, at which time we could contribute scientific instruments and participate in science teams and the mission infrastructure of NASA’s proposed Scout Mission to send small airborne vehicles or landers to Mars.

Canada could also supply science instruments and mission infrastructure to NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, slated for a 2009 launch.

The Mars Science Laboratory promises to be the largest mission to Mars since the Viking Landers; in fact, it is NASA’s capstone mission of the decade.

Basically, the mission involves a controlled landing. If a rover mission is selected, it will be the largest mobile robot ever sent to Mars, and could reveal more about the Martian surface than any other mission before it.

Pending federal approval, Canada could make substantial contributions to the Mars Science Laboratory mission in areas like:

  • The acquisition of samples of Mars’s surface, as well as the delivery of samples to a processing system;
  • In-Situ Instrument Interfaces and Placement;
  • Processing of samples and delivery of sample portions to Analytical Lab;
  • Participation in Science Instruments Complement through an Announcement of Opportunity;
  • An Entry/Descent/Landing Lidar demonstration;
  • A Rover Navigation Lidar Demonstration.

The animation you see here shows a conventional landing for a mission such as the Mars Exploration Rovers launching in 2003.

It will enter the Martian atmosphere with its airbags inflated, bounce around, and finally came to a stop.

In order to do this, you need to select a relatively large, flat, homogeneous and safe landing area.

This means that the geological diversity at this site is limited and the science return is affected.

If we can reduce the size of the landing ellipse, and additionally include a rover capability, the geological diversity available to the scientists involved with the mission is greatly improved.

In comparison, the animation below shows how lidar can be used to evaluate the terrain below the spacecraft (green areas are safe areas to land).

Lidar can be used in a mode that creates a 3-dimensional image of the area below an entering spacecraft.

If the landing system is not an airbag system, but one with an active, controlled, powered descent, lidar can augment the landing accuracy, help avoid obstacles in the final phase before touchdown, and decrease the size of the safe landing area to 5 km or so.

With this capability, plus a roving capability of a few km, it is then possible to increase the scientific return of a mission dramatically.

Canada is currently carrying out feasibility studies to determine if Canadian lidar technology could be used in future international Mars missions in order to help researchers benefit from a precise landing capability.

It is clear from the Canadian science goals that getting below the surface of Mars is of the highest scientific priority. Because of the planet’s thin atmosphere, radiation is a major issue for all potential human missions to Mars.

Given that the top layer of Mars is considered to be very mobile (mostly due to the high winds and high former volcanic activity), and that the surface of Mars is being constantly hit by high levels of radiation, any organic compounds will undoubtedly have been decomposed.

If you want to study the geology of the landing site, getting below the surface to the bedrock is the only way to go.

Given these scientific objectives, the Canadian Space Agency has undertaken to begin some feasibility studies to develop mission infrastructure to support the Canadian science priorities.

We are carrying out studies to determine Canada’s capabilities in subsurface sample acquisition, handling, triage, processing, and the delivery of prepared samples to scientific instruments that will be present on the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

The facility being developed at the concept level right now would acquire samples form the Martian surface and from the subsurface.

Solutions for sample acquisition such as drilling are being studied, in cooperation with the Canadian mining community, specifically with NORCAT.

We will also be studying scooping regolith and coring into rocks.

The system will take these acquired samples and sort them according to sample type, and perform an initial characterization of them.

The samples will be processed according the type of instrument that will analyze them (crushing and/or polishing might be necessary).

Once processed, the samples will be delivered to the instruments provided by researchers from around the world.

This will be a scientifically rich contribution that will offer the Canadian scientific community a “front seat” on the action occurring under the surface of Mars.

Subsurface sampling also seems like a natural fit for Canada, since it combines two of our country’s strengths: our international reputation for excellence in space robotics, with successes like Canadarm and Canadarm2, and our highly developed knowledge in natural resources technologies.

By integrating Canada’s proven expertise in mining, for instance, with our skills in space robotics, our country can make a substantial contribution to international efforts to use automated robotics to drill for samples of Mars’s subsurface.

Organizations like Sudbury’s NORCAT and Electric Vehicle Controllers, with their expertise in mining and the application of traditional technologies to new uses, are developing some very promising and unique Canadian drilling techniques that could be used on Mars.

In addition, we also have a wealth of expertise in our Canadian geology and geophysics communities that could contribute their knowledge to the analysis of data collected from the surface of Mars.

As has been made clear, Canada would like to play a major role in a scientific mission to Mars using Canadian technology and expertise.

We are now in the planning stages to determine what form our potential involvement may take.

Through workshops such as this one, we are consulting with the Canadian scientific and industrial communities.

Apart from the Mars Science Laboratory, let me briefly mention other possibilities.


  • Nine out of about 20 NASA Scout proposals include Canadian participation
  • Pending government approval, we will support Canadian participation if we are part of the proposals selected for Phase A.
  • If selected for flight, we will re-evaluate at that time.


  • Canada is a full member of ESA’s new planetary exploration program.
  • We will evaluate our potential participation in missions such as Exo-Mars (2009) and any missions the following decade.
  • Aurora offers opportunities not available with other international partners.

A “Canadian Concept” Mission

But Canada would like to play an even more substantive role.

In the next couple of years, the Canadian Space Agency will be consulting the scientific community on the creation of a new “Canadian Concept” mission to Mars in the year 2011.

This proposed mission would not be exclusively Canadian, for we recognize the value, and the necessity, of collaborating with our international partners.

However, it would be “distinctly Canadian,” and would feature Canadian ideas, technologies and expertise.


This animation, unveiled for the first time tonight, shows what Canada’s contribution to future Mars missions might look like…

Our involvement in future missions to Mars will challenge us to discover new technologies, new ways of doing things.

It will inspire us, stimulate our thinking and lead us to explore innovative new possibilities with the same pioneering spirit upon which our country was built.

As John F. Kennedy said about the Moon, we are now choosing Mars as our goal not because it is an easy target, but because it is hard.

In Kennedy’s own words, “that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”

And it is in rising to this challenge and striving for new horizons, both literally and figuratively, that we will truly promote a culture of excellence and innovation in Canada in the service to Canadians.

Thank you.

SpaceRef staff editor.