Alberta needs to diversify its economy to grow. All too often this statement is taken as an attack on our oil and gas industry. It does not have to be. In fact, it is exactly because of our innovation in the oil and gas sector that we will be able to branch out. Our oil and gas sector has developed an expertise that is applicable to a multitude of different industries. We can continue to grow our main industry while using our vast talents to expand into another – the space industry. Alberta is perfectly poised to contribute to the modern-day space race and I would like to tell you why.
Make no mistake, we are seeing the very beginning of a era in space and it is aimed at establishing permanent crews on the Moon. Since the cancellation of the Apollo mission, human beings have not traveled past low Earth orbit. Recently government space agencies have been investing public funds and private companies have been raising investments in order to get humans back to the Moon. Not matter how we get there, Alberta can play a vital role.
Moving from the International Space Station to establishing a permanent residence on the Moon and beyond is a big step that is going to take a lot of resources. If we are living on the Moon, the best place to get those resources is on the Moon itself. This is where Alberta’s expertise comes in. Alberta has the talent, technology, and work ethic to play a major part developing in situ resources for the final frontier. With our decades of experience in resource extraction, we have many valuable skills to bring to the table.
We have the talent.
Alberta has some of the most highly trained and best educated people in the world, and we take it for granted. As an electrical engineer, I’ve spent most of my career in the oil and gas industry and I am no stranger to life on a work site. I’m also a graduate of the International Space University and an alumnus of the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS). My work in simulation at the MDRS allowed me to gain a better understanding of the systems that need to be in place for life to thrive on the Moon and on Mars. What I discovered was that the training that oil and gas workers receive in Alberta is greatly aligned with many requirements for working off-planet. Getting ready to go out on a simulated EVA felt a lot like getting ready to go out to a site in Northern Alberta. In both scenarios, you cannot go outside without the proper protective clothing, all of the job safety steps must be reviewed and discussed prior to start of work, and the proper people must be notified of your plan and your whereabouts in case of an emergency. These activities are routine for thousands of Albertans, and it is a vital skill for space exploration.
We have the technology.
Canada is already a major player in the international effort to return to the moon. In February of 2019, the federal government announced a $2 billion dollar investment into Canadarm3 over the next 24 years. This new arm will incorporate next-generation robotics and AI technology to help run NASA’s Lunar Gateway space station. It will even be capable of autonomously running the station when it is vacant of crew.
This investment into robotics and AI is the first stepping stone to the surface of the Moon. Once this technology matures, robotic excavators and processing plants will be able to dig up ice on the moon for processing. Alberta can provide its extraction experience to the Canadian space exploration effort while taking advantage of the automation development to improve our own resource industry at home. The technology transfer would accelerate oil and gas development while creating additional revenue streams. This is the aim of diversification.
Because of our oil and gas industry, Alberta is also pioneer in water management and soil reclamation. The most vital resource for space exploration is water. It is required for drinking, to grow crops, and as a solvent in many chemical applications. It can be electrolyzed into hydrogen and oxygen to make rocket fuel. It can also be used as shielding from radiation. There is water on the moon, in the form of ice in the top layer of lunar soil – this is called the regolith. The regolith can be collected and heated to melt the ice. Mining ice for water is a very similar process to oil sands mining, a technique we are the world leader in. Technologies that we use everyday in our oil and gas operations in Alberta can be employed to remove contaminants from extracted water and provide a necessary resource to the international space community.
It’s common knowledge that Alberta needs to diversify its economy. Expanding our talents into the space industry will secure our seat in this new frontier and at the international table for centuries to come. The push into space provides us the opportunity to use our skills in a new area and maximize our value. In the very near future there will be new bootprints on the Moon. Let’s make sure there are Albertan boots among them.