Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 29, No.5

November 4, 2004


Canada’s role in exploration of Mars inspires students

By Patrick Lavery

Ever wonder what was going on with our big red neighbour out there in space? Since the much-publicized launches of two different missions to explore the surface of Mars last January, things seemed to have quieted down, but things are not as they seem.

On Oct. 28, the Concordia Branch of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) looked at Canada’s role in future exploration of Mars, including the possibility of a manned mission to the red planet.

CASI-Concordia branch president Sylvie Medeiros, a fourth-year Mechanical Engineering student, was excited to be hosting the presentation, which was sponsered by the Mars Society of Canada.
“Mars is a hot topic these days, especially now that Spirit and Opportunity have proved to be a success. Students are keen about Mars because they know about the job opportunities in the space industry this field is bringing in.”

Her career plans include research into space. “Once I’m done my bachelor’s degree, I’d like to do a master’s of engineering,” she said. “I’m really interested in propulsion. Anything to do with propulsion, I want to learn it.”

Her interest in space started when she saw the launch of Apollo 13 as a teenager. “After that, I wanted to learn anything space-related.” Her experience as president of the Concordia branch has kept her motivated to fulfill her goals. Medeiros sees her experience in CASI as a positive one.

“CASI relates 100 per cent to what I’m studying at Concordia,” she said. “It puts an emphasis on aerospace and aeronautical engineering, as well as remote sensing, like satellites. My projects for class are similar to those of CASI.”

Medeiros is enjoys working with the other members of the Concordia branch. “We have a strong group of individuals on our executive team,” she said. “Ting-Ming Chen, Firouzeh Nikpour-Naini and I have strong backgrounds in the mechanical engineering field.”

Medeiros said faculty-staff advisor Wahid Ghaly provides valuable input. “We are all glad to have him on our team.”

Medeiros pointed out that CASI Canada executive director Geoffrey Languedoc is a Concordia University graduate.

The branch had two guest speakers give separate presentations. Dr. Erick Dupuis, the lead engineer for the Canadian Space Agency, gave the audience a look at the CSA’s plans for its involvement in the exploration of Mars.

Fathi Karouia, a PhD candidate at the University of Houston, spoke about his experiences as a member of Mars Expedition Research Council, a private group that hopes to lead a manned mission to Mars.
Dr. Dupuis started his presentation with a brief overview of Canada’s history with outer space. He pointed out that Canada was the third nation to place a satellite into orbit, after the Soviet Union and United States, with Alouette, in 1962. He then revealed to the audience that the CSA is hoping to lead a mission to Mars in the near future.

“We’ve contributed a lot to past missions,” he said, referring to
achievements like the CanadArm, “but we’ve placed a thrust on space exploration. We want to find out what is out there.”

Fahti Karouia’s presentation let him talk about his experience in a simulated Martian environment. “I’ve been on two expeditions as a member of the MERC,” he said. “I spent a month living in a simulated environment in the desert in Utah last year, and I spent another month in Australia this past summer.”

Karouia says the next MERC expedition will be in Canada, at a
simulation base on Dover Island, in Nunavut.

“We simulate the environment as best we can,” he said. “We don’t go outside with out wearing a suit like we would on Mars.” Karouia screened a five-minute video of his experience in Utah to illustrate just what his experience was like.

Dupuis and Karouia both see Mars as the next logical step in our exploration of the cosmos. “There is much we can learn from Mars,” said Karouia. “It can teach us much about our planet and ourselves.”