By Ewan Reid
Humans are going back to the moon. Life on Earth is feeling its way out of its den. We first went to the moon in 1969. Twelve American men walked on the lunar surface and another four orbited Earth’s satellite over a series of nine missions. Since then, only two other nations—the former Soviet Union and China— have successfully landed a robot on the moon. But now a new race is on. Many different countries—at last count, eight—and countless companies are planning new lunar missions and Canada is set to play a role in one of the first.
Why go to the moon? Why leave the planet at all? To explore. We need to know where we came from. We need to look ahead and see where we’re going. The moon is a stepping stone—the closest to our shores—from which we can explore farther afield. It’s a logical first step to test the technologies we’ll need to do that.
There are more stars somewhat like our Sun in the universe than there are grains of sand on Earth. There must be life out there. Intelligent life. While we can’t see clearly how we can communicate with it/them now, the advances that life on Earth, most recently human life, have made, indicate that anything is possible. Human spacecrafts have left our solar system, been sent toward other stars, and recently, with the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, we have a tool to look back in time to the earliest days of our universe.
With the moon as the next step, Canada has set out to be a part of lunar exploration. Mission Control, a company that focuses on developing advanced software for space, has built an artificial intelligence (AI) that will be demonstrated on the moon in the early part of 2023—less than a year from now. By validating this technology now, with the support of the Canadian Space Agency, Canadian industries and academia—thousands of people across Canada—are positioned to play an important role in this new frontier of discovery.
Our AI system is a series of algorithms, implemented in software, and integrated on a computer or circuit card, and will use images from a small rover to classify lunar terrain. On future missions, the output from this AI will let robots navigate more safely, let them conduct more experiments faster, and, ultimately, help human operators back on Earth prepare for when humans themselves return to the moon. This computer will be installed on a lunar lander built by a Japanese company. The images will come from a rover built in the United Arab Emirates. This lander and rover will launch together on a US rocket, built by SpaceX. Canada is joining a truly international mission.
Looking ahead to the future, there are enormous opportunities for everyone to be involved in exploration and discovery; to participate in the space sector. In a short couple of years, a Canadian will be one of the first humans to return to the moon and fly around it on the Artemis 2 mission. One of the four current candidates will be the first non-US citizen to see the Moon from only a few hundred kilometres away. But beyond astronauts, there are so many other jobs to do to help us move into the future. Artists are some of the first humans to work on exploration missions, to visualize the possibilities for investors. We need engineers. We need scientists. We need technicians and doctors and lawyers and team builders.
Who can say what the future holds? Life on Earth is only now feeling its way beyond the small part of the cosmos where we’ve lived since something sparked our creation many years ago. As we take the next steps into this future, Canada, and Canadians, can play a part. You can play a role as we go to the moon and beyond.