During the #CSAtweetup for Curiosity’s landing we were invited back later that morning to get a tour of the facilities and learn more about the ways through which the Canadian Space Agency supports programs not only like the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission but space exploration in general. During our visit for example to the Space and Planetary Sciences Lab we learned how they were analyzing various elemental compositions of rocks and soil to better understand how it may have been altered by water, and how understanding the chemical composition of this sampling can allow them to better search for evidence of rocks formed in the presence of water, as they would be the most likely location where traces of life that might have existed could be found. Pinpointing such is especially important as we learned that Curiosity’s onboard laboratory only has twenty-four sanitized sample containers, heightening anxiety for a positive confirmation early on in the MSL mission.
We even had a Q&A session with one of the agency’s two new astronauts, Dr. David Saint-Jacques (@Astro_DavidS), via videoconference during his short visit back home to Northern Quebec, before returning back to a full schedule of training for his upcoming mission to the International Space Station (ISS). And even heard how the other astronaut was recently out at Victoria Island with a geology professor learning about impact craters and the type of evidence to look for at a recently discovered site on the northern end of the island that might just have been an asteroid impact site.
While down in the Exhibit Hall one of the senior engineers walked us through the various contributions we’ve made over the years to satellites – and broke any misconceptions I might have had as to what they actually look like. The first image that often sprung to my mind was of the sleek manufactured ones typically seen in the movies, but in truth due to cargo limitations on each flight, satellites come in all shapes and sizes to accommodate the available space they end up getting allocated, and often aren’t the prettiest of things.