Four years ago on Earth Day, I spoke in front of a crowd of approximately 3,000 people in Toronto for the March for Science on the importance of assets in space in the everyday lives of Canadians here on Earth. Since the messages are still entirely relevant today, here is the full text of that speech. (Note that certain references and budgets given are reflective of 2017, where the speech was given.)
As a scientist who works on robots that we send to other planets, I often hear complaints about how much money is spent on “space.” Space is viewed as this futuristic pipe dream, the realm of eccentric billionaires with money to burn. Many don’t see how money spent on “space” has any benefit to humanity, especially with pressing matters like war and poverty here on the ground.
And these are absolutely valid concerns, don’t get me wrong.
But space, like all of science, is thoroughly integrated with our society. Space is here and now. Space is completely entrenched in our everyday lives as Canadians to the point that we don’t even see it. At this very moment, thousands of satellites for everything from communications to navigation to imaging are flying over our heads. And in Canada, each one of us uses these satellites in some fashion an average of 20 to 30 times every single day. These satellites have become a critical part of our infrastructure. Take GPS for example. It’s not just something you use when you’re driving from Point A to Point B. GPS satellites transmit time codes to a huge array of devices here on the ground, from cell phones to ATMs. They’re used on 2.5 million farms in the U.S. and Canada for precision agriculture, which helps to maximize crop yields and cost efficiency. Precision agriculture systems use GPS to keep track of when and where to water and fertilize down to the millimetre. From traffic lights to water treatment plants, many things we perhaps take for granted as being there all the time for us rely on timekeeping from GPS satellites to function.
Many of the satellites flying overhead are looking down and taking pictures at this very moment. Some of these are weather satellites. Did you check the weather forecast before you decided how to dress this morning? Thank satellite data. Have you ever used Google Maps? Thank satellite data. Have you flown on an…