Out of Our World

The Legacy

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Those words represent one of the greatest moments in space exploration. Somehow, they manage to instill a sense of pride in humankind for attaining what seemed impossible. Few events have brought the world together for such a positive event like the moon landing. America was proud to boast itself as the world leader in space exploration, and that was a time that most Americans supported this innovative field. But somewhere along the way a shift in attitude resulted in spending cuts to NASA.

And yet just over one (Earth) year ago, NASA sent out the Mars Curiosity Rover. Aptly named, this Rover has been exploring and capturing images from the red planet since its historic landing. This project seemed to be used as a platform to reconnect the public with the excitement of space exploration. The Rover has a Twitter account, which live-tweeted its landing and has been tweeting ever since (it turns out the Rover has quite the wit). Along with strategizing on how to gain public support, space exploration has something more inherently in common with international security: the need for innovation.

Want Security? Innovate.

Security is the ability to maintain a level of stability in a world filled with uncertainties. This requires more than setting up borders and gaining intelligence. In fact, even for those tasks, innovation is crucial. Take the collection of intelligence – how it is done today (a lot of the time virtually) is very different to how it was done during WWI or WWII. Consider what it will evolve into over the coming century, and it’s clear that nothing is certain when it comes to how security operations will be conducted.

This is very much the case for space exploration. In fact, it might just be the most Darwinian field that exists, because not only does its evolution depend on innovative thinking, but its very creation as a field did as well. Looking quite literally beyond our world requires an immense amount of creativity, and a willingness to explore the unknown. But as a community, the world has moved far beyond being simply intrigued in knowing more about space; we still want to know more, but more specifically we want to know how that information can benefit us as humanbeings. This is where the two fields of fostering security and space exploration converge.

Countries that seek power beyond their own borders – that is, the ability to influence other nations through various means – have always been the lead innovators of their time. This is why there is no surprise to see the modern ‘space race’ shifting away from Russia and the USA to a competition between the USA and China. As much as domestic support may have faltered in the United States, private actors, such as entrepreneur Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, have recognized the importance role of this exploration in maintaining a competitive edge. Chinese developers are also very much interested in gaining an edge in space technology, with some arguing that in the next forty years the Chinese will be “winning the space-race.”

The Future of Humanity

Many of the innovators of tomorrow are concerned about climate shifts and their implications on long-term habitability on Earth. To be frank, discussing international security will be useless if there are no countries left. After the moon landing, enthusiasm for space programs has fallen. Regardless of the reasons, and there are multiple, it’s time to regroup and think of the next step. Elon Musk has stated that “the obvious next step after Apollo was to send people to Mars.” This is precisely what the goal of SpaceX is, and though this would seem like a far-off statement coming from anyone else, coming from Elon Musk it carries weight. This dilemma is one that China and the US are already well aware of, which is why they are working in their respective ways to harness support for space exploration. They continue to utilize their innovative populations to find solutions to these difficult issues.

Canada is lagging behind… but doesn’t have to be.

Interestingly, Canada’s aerospace industry is ranked 5th against other international aerospace industries, according to the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada. It sees annual investments of over $1 billion, and is what a large portion of Canada’s R&D is focused on. Yet when we think of global leaders in innovation, Canada is often left out. This is a shame, especially when it comes to aerospace technology. Long hidden in its shadow of being a traditionally named ‘middle power’, Canadian industries have often failed at demonstrating leadership to a global audience. But it is already a leader in aerospace manufacturing – and it should utilize that to become a leader in aerospace innovation. This is a key avenue through which Canada can enhance global security.

When it comes to international security, Canada spends a lot less than its two largest allies (the UK and the US) on its defense expenditures. This is not to say that Canada needs to increase its defense spending, but rather that it has the luxury and opportunity to focus on securing the world through other means. Aerospace innovation is one of those means. With globally recognized manufacturers like Bombardier, Canadian companies already have a platform to work from. By aiding in the innovation process, Canada will be proactively contributing to the security of its fellow allies by gaining a competitive advantage. What Canada lacks in military strength, it can compensate for with aggressive innovation.

Yet Canada does not have an Elon Musk, and in fact many mainstream media narratives argue that Canada is seriously lacking innovative talent. It does not even have the enthusiasm for space exploration that China and the United States have – but it easily could. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield (famously known for his live-tweeting from space) stands as a symbol for the type of pride that can be generated across our nation when fellow countrymen and women are on the global stage. Canada’s opportunity for leadership isn’t the most conventional method of leading, but it’s only a little outside of this world, and is definitely within grasp.


Radha Patel

About Radha Patel

Radha Patel completed her BA at McGill University, with a double major in Political Science and World Religions and a minor in Politics, Law, and Society. Her areas of interest include international relations, comparative politics, and transitions to democracy. Radha is interested in learning about Canada’s role on the international stage and how it can be optimized to be more effective in its global endeavours. She was the Program Editor as well as a Research Analyst for the Emerging Securities Program at the NATO Association of Canada.