Western Space takes flight in successful launch

It symbolized one giant leap for Western Space – a purple patch that hitched a ride on the International Space Station (ISS) returned home Monday at the official opening of the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration.

Held at the International and Graduate Affairs Building, the launch event featured recorded congratulations from the Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques, whose 204 days in orbit set a record for Canadian astronauts.

Saint-Jacques carried the Western patch to the ISS and shot a photo of it, and its corner of space, through the ISS cupola. The patch was returned to Earth and framed as part of the launch celebration.

Western Space Director Gordon ‘Oz’ Osinski said this launch is the next step in making the institute an internationally renowned focal point for studying the rocks beneath our feet and the stars above our heads.

If one sentence sums up why Western Space exists, Osinski said, it would be an observation Socrates made 2,000 years ago: “Humankind must rise about the Earth, to the top of the clouds and beyond, for only thus will we fully understand the world in which we live.”

Physics and Astronomy professor Jan Cami and Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Jayshri Sabarinathan serve as Associate Directors of Western Space.

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Western President Alan Shepard noted the interdisciplinary nature of the institute is the university’s “secret weapon.”

Astronaut Dave Williams, a specialist on two space shuttle missions and a member of Western Space’s Advisory Council, hailed the institute as visionary. He said the university is perfectly positioned to inspire and lead the next generation into space and Earth exploration.

Perhaps, he said, someone in the room today may become the first to walk on Mars.

Williams stressed international collaboration is key. Looking upon the planet from space, it’s clear this is a world without borders. “You realize we are all in this together.”

Building on the foundations of the former Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX), Western Space boasts 60 researchers ­­– including scientists, engineers, social scientists, philosophers, health professionals and entrepreneurs – and more than 40 graduate students across eight faculties and 19 departments. It will focus on five interdisciplinary themes:

  • Earth observation, monitoring and protection – including remote sensing/mapping, atmospheric studies and space hazards;
  • Exploration technologies – instrumentation, robotics and telerobotics, power systems, communication and data science;
  • Planetary processes – planetary surface processes, atmospheres dynamics, formation, habitability; interiors and exoplanets;
  • Planetary materials – cosmochemistry, meteorite impacts, natural resources and biosignatures; and
  • Galactic and stellar processes – star formation and birth, interstellar medium and massive stars.

Projects include the Canadian CubeSat program; High Altitude Balloon Project; simulated planetary missions; Space Matters education; machine learning/AI; and a drone mission to explore Saturn’s moon Titan.