Exploration Mindset

Talk of Mars is getting more and more media attention. Because of that, reporters have been calling astronauts, agencies, schools and government officials to get their take on a mission to Mars. Much of the conversation has been centered around Mars One, a newcomer to the Mars race. Being the newcomer, the established players are rightly skeptical. However, I’ve found that skepticism has turned into negativity. It’s very easy to find criticism of the mission and difficult to find optimism. I find this troubling.

I find it especially troubling coming from Canadian astronauts. As a Canadian, I want my country’s astronauts to be the embodiment of the “can do” attitude. Their responses to the Mars One mission, a company up against formidable odds, shows me the Canadian Space Agency is becoming more and more risk averse. More than that, a general unwillingness to entertain new ideas seems prevalent in their culture.  to A sad state of affairs for the third nation in space.

Compare these two statements: It can’t be done vs How can it be done.

The knee jerk reaction I’m seeing is that a mission to Mars can’t be done. Everyone hopes it will, but they aren’t making a personal effort to get it done. They are more than willing to offer excuses as to why it won’t work, instead of solutions to get it to work. There is a big difference in thinking between the two mindsets.

Chris Hadfield

Hadfield is a household name around Canada. I’ve never met him, but I’ve watched his talks online and read his book. As the ISS commander, he no doubt understands leadership and determination. That makes it all the more confusing to me when a bold plan is announced, he’s against it.

“There’s a great, I don’t know, self-defeating optimism in the way that this project has been set up, I fear that it’s going to be a little disillusioning for people, because it’s presented as if for sure it’s going to happen.”

But that’s exactly how you set goals. You set an objective, a time line then start working the details. You don’t set a goal to “maybe”. You set a goal to “we are doing this”. As ISS commander I’m sure he did this over and over again. There were goals in place, and he had to make them happen. You set your goals and adjust your strategy as time goes on to ensure they happen. You may not know all the details when you start towards a goal; the most important thing is that you start.

“I want to know: How does a space suit on Mars work? Show me how it is pressurized, and how it is cooled. What’s the glove design? None of that stuff can be bought off the rack. It does not exist. You can’t just go to SpaceMart and buy those things.”

Hadfield is talking about the details. The short answer is they haven’t been worked out yet. However, MIT and NASA are both working on new suits for Mars. The details are being worked on. Why didn’t he say “I’m anxious to see how the new prototypes work” rather than tell the media they don’t exist. I’m sure he’s aware of the efforts being made. He choose to talk in the negative; implying that it’s better not to even try. As for Space Mart, it’s looking like the aerospace business is going in the direction.

Why isn’t he using his public clout to get people excited and engaged with new space ventures?

Robert Thirsk

Bob is a fantastic man. I’ve personally been to his lectures, chatted with him and shared a few beers. I’ve even spoken to students about Mars at the high school named after him. He’s very knowledgeable, calculated and detail oriented. He’s also said an effort to colonize Mars would be a suicide mission.

“I don’t think we’re ready … we don’t yet have the reliable technology to support a one-way trip to Mars … It’s naive to think we’re ready to colonize Mars — it’d be a suicide mission.”

He doesn’t say “let’s get ready” or “here are the steps” or even “I would rather see…”. He said it’s naive to think we are ready, and trying is the same thing as suicide. That to me is uncompromisingly defeatist. I will agree, we do not have reliable technology. My solution would be to get reliable technology, not to call it adempted suicide. When confronted with an obstacle, the winner starts to think how they will overcome it; the loser goes home. It’s a frame of mind that seems to be missing from the Canadian astronaut alumni.

Bob is the current University of Calgary Chancellor, a position that carries academic visibility. The UofC has a department of space research and an observatory. So why the negative comments about a new space venture? Why wouldn’t he use his position to encourage students to critically examine the mission? Instead honest effort is causally dismissed.

Julie Payette

Julie is one of the few women who’ve made it into space. When I heard her talk in Montreal, she spoke about overcoming the male dominated aerospace industry during her journey to becoming an astronaut. She spoke about the uphill battle against the preconceived notions of the day. That makes her harsh words for the mission all the more baffling.

“So, if you meet any of those people, don’t tell them they’re courageous because the only courage they had was to sign up on a website.”

I wonder if any of her male colleges told her the same sort of thing as she was trying to prove herself. I wonder if they said things like, “Don’t pay attention to Julie, she’s a woman”. Yes, the Mars One mission looks completely different than what’s been done in the past. It goes against conventional mission planning. So did women in aerospace and engineering at one point. How she doesn’t see that parallel is baffling to me. Her reaction is to say it can’t be done, instead of asking how it can be done.

“We don’t have the technology to go to Mars, with everything we know today, so I don’t think that a marketing company and a TV-type of selection, is sending anybody anywhere,”

She goes on to say:

“We are going to go to space on a commercial basis and it’s at our doors, It’s a reality that will become the norm in the next decades.”

She’s saying it both ways. A marketing company can’t get into the space business, but space will become commercial in the next decades. This is the positive talking that I’m referring to. Looking to what’s possible and what’s on the horizon. Commercial space will become a reality and space travel will become monetized. Why then, such negativity when a company attempts to do just that? She displays outright hostility to those who want to follow her footsteps and reach for something bigger than themselves. She believes that taking steps to Mars, small as they may be, are worthless.

This attitude is coming from the Chief Operating Officer of the Montreal Science Centre. A centre whose mission is to “… to help visitors of all ages acquire an understanding of science and technology for use in building their future” Why is she lashing out at people who are trying to do just that?



I ask my questions with the hope of an answer. Why are Canadian astronauts so negative towards new ventures?