Lunar mania: New space-race to the moon has some intriguing contenders

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TODAY:

  • It’s been 16,877 days and counting since the last manned mission to the moon, but now it seems that everyone is in a hurry to go back.
  • After keeping her silence for weeks, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould had a lot to say at Wednesday’s Commons justice committee hearing.
  • Meghan Markle is at the centre of a war of words being fought on social media.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

The new moon race

Fifty years is a long time, even on the moon.

The first footprints that Neil Armstrong made on the evening of July 20, 1969, were likely obliterated when Apollo 11’s landing module blasted off the next day, and the American flag that the crew left behind was long ago bleached white by ultraviolet rays. Although the tools, towels, cameras and other objects they dumped to lessen the load are still up there along with the bags of astronaut poop, all now covered with a layer of fine, lunar dust.

It’s been 16,877 days and counting since Apollo 17, the last manned mission to our closest celestial neighbour.

But now it seems that everyone is in a hurry to go back.

NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin stands next to the Lunar Module spacecraft on the surface of the moon after he and Neil Armstrong became the first men to land there during the Apollo 11 space mission on July 20, 1969. (Neil Armstrong/NASA/Reuters)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a brief break from crisis management this morning to announce that Canada will join the U.S.-led Lunar Gateway project that could put astronauts back on the moon’s surface as soon as 2028.

The international scheme calls for the construction of an orbiting moon station starting next year, followed by what NASA calls “sustainable lunar architecture” — aka a moon base — that will serve as both a research station and proving ground for an eventual Mars mission.

And the U.S. space agency recently announced plans for one of its private space partners to land a new robotic probe on the moon by the end of 2019, and last week unveiled a dozen scientific payloads.

European Space Agency former astronaut Jean-François Clervoy tests an access lock for the future international lunar orbital station’s European module ‘Esprit’ on Feb. 22 in the COMEX swimming pool in Marseille, France. (Boris Horvat/AFP/Getty Images)

The sudden resurgence of interest has everything to do with competition.

The Chinese government achieved a space first by landing a probe and rover on the far-side of the moon at the beginning of January, a likely precursor to their own crewed mission.

The Kremlin reportedly has plans to put Russian cosmonauts on the moon by 2031, and construct its own lunar base by 2035.

A lander built by a private Israeli firm, Beresheet, blasted off on a SpaceX rocket last week, and may or may not be headed for a moon landing following a software glitch.

Israeli technicians work on the moon lander Beresheet (the Hebrew word for Genesis) that launched on its mission to the moon on Feb. 21. (Yoav Weiss)

India, which sent its first probe to the moon in 2008, has a second mission teed up and ready to go. It plans a manned mission by December 2021, the Indian Space Research Organization said in January.

And Taiwan has ramped up its space program, with the moon as the ultimate goal.

The private sector will surely play a big role in future moon missions.

A Japanese firm, ispace, is building two spacecraft that it hopes to send to the moon via SpaceX launches in 2020 and 2021. It is busy recruiting corporate partners, like NGK Spark Plug Co., to help underwrite the cost.

NASA, which hasn’t had its own manned launch capability since the Shuttle program ended in 2011 — it has been contracting the job out to the Russians at as much as $82 million US a seat — is counting on Boeing and SpaceX for a made-in-America solution.

Kailasavadivoo Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, outlines upcoming moon missions at ISRO headquarters in Bangalore on Jan. 11. ISRO plans to launch a lunar probe by December 2020, a second by July 2021, and a manned mission by December 2021, he said. (Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)

Progress has been slow, but Elon Musk’s company is scheduled to send its Crew Dragon capsule on a dry run to the International Space Station this coming weekend, with plans to ferry its first astronauts in July, should all go well.

Boeing’s Starliner  test-flight should happen later this spring.

All of that has to do with cost.

NASA’s 2019 budget is an impressive-sounding $21.5 billion US, but that’s less than half a per cent of Washington’s total spending, and about 50 per cent of the purchasing power the agency wielded during the Apollo glory years.

(Trudeau today earmarked $2.05 billion over the next 24 years for Canada’s space program, including $150 million over five years for the Lunar Gateway.)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday that Canada will take part in an international lunar space station project. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Despite the recent surge in interest, the new space race still lacks the 1960s urgency and investment provided by the Cold War.

Although Donald Trump, who has something of a space fixation, was reportedly willing to spend almost anything to ensure a Mars landing — as long as it occurred during his time in office.

Team of Vipers, the recent West-wing tell-all by former aide Cliff Sims, details an April 2017 Oval Office event during which the U.S. President put his then-NASA administrator on the spot, demanding a manned Mars mission before the 2020 election.  

The NASA chief gently explained that the actual timeline — signed into law by Trump just a month earlier — is in the 2030s, and given the logistical challenges probably can’t be advanced much, even with an unlimited budget.

Trump, writes Sims, was “visibly disappointed.”


At Issue

It’s been another wild week in Canadian politics, producer Arielle Piat-Sauvé writes.

Almost three weeks after allegations of political interference by the prime minister’s office first came to light in a Globe and Mail report, we’ve finally heard from the person at the centre of it all — Jody Wilson-Raybould.

And after keeping her silence for weeks, the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General had a lot to say at yesterday’s Commons justice committee hearing.

Jody Wilson-Raybould gives her testimony about the SNC-Lavalin affair before a justice committee hearing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. The Montreal-based firm was charged in 2015 with corruption for allegedly bribing officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011 to secure government contracts. (Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images)

During her 40-minute-long opening statement, Wilson-Raybould presented her detailed account of events in chronological order. She then spent another three-and-a-half hours answering questions.

It’s clear to anyone listening to the almost four-hour testimony that her account of what happened differs from that of the Clerk of the Privy Council and the prime minister.

Wilson-Raybould says she faced veiled threats and repeated political pressure to interfere in the SNC-Lavalin affair. The prime minister refuted Wilson-Raybould’s testimony and reiterated that he believes there was no inappropriate pressure.

In his latest column, Andrew Coyne says either Wilson-Raybould is flat-out lying, or the prime minister and his people are.

Paul Wells describes the former Attorney General’s account as a sickening, smug protection racket, and says the rules need to be the rules.  

And last night, the leader of the opposition, Andrew Scheer, went as far as to call on Trudeau to resign.

Right now it looks like Canadians will have to decide whose narrative they believe, the prime minister’s or Wilson-Raybould’s. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

As Chantal Hébert said during our special Wednesday At Issue, Wilson-Raybould has placed the prime minister right in the middle of the controversy — and they are supposed to be on the same team. Today, Hébert writes that the Liberals will likely be heading into the fall election campaign with the SNC-Lavalin affair still hanging around the party’s neck.

So why is Wilson-Raybould remaining in the Liberal caucus? And what’s the government’s next move?

One thing we can be certain of is that this topic will dominate Question Period today.

Needless to say, lots for the At Issue panel tonight. Rosie Barton is away this week, but Chantal, Andrew and Paul will join host Ian Hanomansing. We’ll tackle the latest on the SNC-Lavalin controversy and take some viewer questions.

Hope you can tune in!

– Arielle Piat-Sauvé

  • WATCH: At Issue tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

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#Megxit or #Megulator

Meghan Markle is at the centre of a war of words being fought on social media, writes London bureau reporter Kayla Hounsell.

I had been combing through the online vitriol about Meghan Markle for a while when my producer, Lily Martin, came across the work of social data journalist Gemma Joyce.

She had noticed so much nastiness online about the Duchess of Sussex, she decided to dig deep to find out who was saying what.

While it was already clear there were many distasteful and racist comments, I thought Joyce could give us some actual data. We made the trip to Brighton, England, to meet with her.

Gemma Joyce, a British social data journalist, is seen in front of screens displaying the data she gathered related to the online bullying of Meghan Markle. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Joyce showed us a wall of screens in her office, displaying bar graphs, pie charts and maps. They indicated the most popular hashtag about Meghan Markle is #Megxit. You guessed it, a play on Brexit. People want Meghan to “leave” the way Britain is leaving the European Union.

#Moonbump is also growing in popularity, referring to the Duchess’s baby bump.

“There is this theory going around that she is faking her pregnancy, which to me sounds a little bit mad,” Joyce says.

Perhaps not surprisingly, 80 per cent of this discussion is being generated by women, but what’s really interesting is that the majority of them are not in the United Kingdom. The United States, where Meghan was an actress before marrying into the Royal Family, is fuelling the conversation, followed by the U.K., with Canada coming in third.

Joyce points out that while there is a lot of online abuse, there are also Meghan supporters, and they have a hashtag too. They’re the Megulators.

“It’s not that, you know, the trolls are really winning,” she says. “But at the same time, just looking at the kind of hatred around it is quite depressing really.”

– Kayla Hounsell

  • WATCH: The story about bullying, the Royals and the efforts to curb the Twitter trolls tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online
  • READ: The Royal Fascinator, Janet Davison’s incisive look at the Royal Family, is back after a hiatus. It goes behind the headlines and tabloid gossip to help you understand the politics of the House of Windsor today. Sign up for The Royal Fascinator and have it delivered to your inbox every other Friday.

A few words on … 

The fallout from Michael Cohen’s testimony.


Quote of the moment

“Yesterday, I tried to call [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi to say that we don’t want escalation. But our desire for de-escalation should not be taken as our weakness … We have an Indian pilot. As a peace gesture, we will release him tomorrow.”

– Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, tries to turn down the temperature on the suddenly hot conflict over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. (Aly Song/Reuters)


What The National is reading

  • Trump-Kim summit ends without a deal (CBC)
  • UN: Israel intentionally shot children and journalists in Gaza (Haaretz)
  • Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu indicted for bribery and fraud (MSNBC)
  • Ex-Cardinal’s lawyer sorry for describing abuse as ‘vanilla sex’ (Guardian)
  • Nazi-era mass grave discovered in Belarus (Deutsche Welle)
  • Report: U.S. plush toilet paper use wiping out Canada’s forests (National Post)
  • Africa’s richest man makes a $17 billion bid for immortality (Bloomberg)
  • Starbucks customers in China brawl over cat-paw mugs (Asia Times)
  • Stuck in a lift with David Hockney (BBC)

Today in history

Feb. 28, 1963: How spandex reinvented the foundation garment

How do you put a price on a shape, CBC’s Take 30 asks in this 12-minute exploration of women’s undergarments. Shelagh Lewis from the Foundation Council of Canada is on hand to talk about the biggest news since the whale-bone corset — Spandex. It’s machine-washable, resistant to body oils and perspiration, and one-third the weight of rubber-tree elastic. “This sounds almost too good to be true,” exclaims host Jean Morrison.

Foundation garment trends, and how spandex can help you achieve today’s figure. 11:54

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