Saturday, 5 March 2005

Israeli teens impress Garneau with project

Saturday, March 5, 2005 - Page A17

Special to The Globe and Mail

TEL AVIV -- Canada's first astronaut Marc Garneau has seen a lot of things most ordinary mortals never will. But even he was taken aback by the school project of a group of Israeli teenagers this week.

Mr. Garneau could hardly believe it when 15-year-old Tal Pritzker and his fellow students in the Space Technology group at the Meyerhoff Technical School in Tel Aviv showed him their latest project: a satellite and earth-tracking station that should be ready for launch in about two years.

"I'm amazed by what you've done," he told them. "I'd like to hire you all. It was very impressive. I don't think I've ever met youngsters who are so well informed."

"I was bowled over," he said in an interview. "There is a school named after me, the Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, where we teach space sciences, but they've never actually built a satellite."

Mr. Garneau, president of the Canadian Space Agency, is leading a week-long trade mission to Israel to sign a co-operation agreement with the Israel Space Agency on Earth observation, small satellites and encouraging young people to learn about space.

It is both his and the agency's first visit to Israel. He is accompanied by representatives of six Canadian companies that are active in space technology and eager to explore commercial projects for the first time with their Israeli counterparts.

"Space gives us a unique perspective on our world. Seen from space, the Earth is one tiny, fragile, blue planet in an ocean of infinity. It's clear we need to work together and to help each other if we're going to preserve this planet," he told the students.

During his first flight, Mr. Garneau said he watched with alarm as a pall of smoke covering one million square kilometres settled in the upper atmosphere from the burning of the Amazonian rain forests. As the shuttle continued on its orbit, he saw evidence of man-made disasters across the globe.

Over Kazakhstan, he saw the dried-up Sea of Aral, once the fourth-largest body of inland water in the world, drained by the Soviets for irrigation. "It had terrible effects. It dried up, then the minerals in the dried-up areas blew over the land and essentially sterilized it."

Mr. Garneau said that Canadian scientists are working on programs triggered by space observation and exploration to tackle these and other environmental problems, including climate change and the depletion of the ozone layer.

The five-year, $5-billion budget for space research just announced by the government will keep Canada at the cutting edge, he added.

"We've learned a great deal about computer technology by rising to the challenge of sending rockets into space," he said. "The technology that we developed to build the robotic arm for the U.S. space shuttle, the Canadarm, in the early '80s, is now being used to perform robotic surgery."

Canadian medical scientists have gleaned vital information on bone loss from osteoporosis which occurs at 10 times the normal rate in astronauts because of weightlessness. A direct result has been the development of a new type of fake bone, Skelite, that can be used to help people heal faster after surgery.

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