Thursday, 5 May 2022

Russian Space Program Another Casualty of War on Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at Vostochny Cosmodrome in 2016. (Wikimedia)

To mark this year’s Cosmonautics Day on the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight into space on April 12, 1961, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the newly built Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s far east.

The visit came during the seventh week of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which has seen the European Space Agency, other western countries and many companies break ties with the Russian space program.

“Each one of us is experiencing extraordinary feelings today: it’s genuine pride for generations that have accomplished this epic technological breakthrough and simultaneously faith in the future, in our power and in our progressive development. Confidence in that we will definitely achieve the goals that we have set,” Putin told workers at Vostochny. “I am certain that this will be the case.”

Despite Putin’s optimism that day, he was speaking at a time when it was already becoming clear to most people that the Russian space program was becoming one of the casualties of his invasion of Ukraine.

Since the invasion began on February 24, the Russians have pulled out of the Soyuz rocket launch operation at Kourou, and the ESA quickly cancelled the planned launch from Russia later this year of the ExoMars mission, along with other joint projects with Russia. Communications satellites that the British-Indian company OneWeb had planned for Russian launch vehicles have been shifted to other suppliers.

The Ukrainian invasion has meant the end of exports of Russian engines for use on U.S. launch vehicles. Now the remaining arena of Russian-American cooperation is the International Space Station, where U.S., Russian and other astronauts continue to work together as they have for more than 20 years. Despite tweeted threats to do otherwise, the Russians brought U.S. astronaut Mark Vande Hei back to Earth on March 30 without incident from his U.S. record breaking 355 days on the ISS.

The widespread anger unleashed against Russia by its unprovoked attack on Ukraine has thrown the future of the ISS into question. Russia is committed to continue its work on the ISS until 2024, and the U.S. and other partners until 2030. NASA is already supporting firms planning to create successor space stations to follow the ISS.

Like Putin, many people remember the Soviet space spectaculars starting with Sputnik in 1957 through Gagarin and other flights that provoked the United States to send the first humans to the Moon in Apollo. The Soviet space program continued in the 1970s and 1980s with space stations and feats such as landings on Venus.

The decline of Russia’s space program began in earnest 30 years ago in the economic turbulence that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, which was so bad that the U.S. government felt compelled to prop up the cash-strapped Russian space program to discourage Russian missile experts from moving to adversary nations such as Iran or North Korea.

In the 1990s Russian launch vehicles, previously forbidden, became a popular and inexpensive means of sending payloads into space. That ended in the last decade with the rise of SpaceX, when its low-cost Falcon 9 launch vehicles came to dominate low-cost space launch market.

In 2014 when Putin invaded and illegally annexed Crimea and backed up separatists in parts of eastern Ukraine, sanctions imposed at that time began to bite into Russia’s space business along with other parts of its economy. It also undermined parts of the former Soviet space industry that had been based in Ukraine.

Many people failed to take notice of the decline of Russia’s space industry at the time because it was supplying the only available rides for American and other space travellers to the ISS following the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. Now that SpaceX is taking passengers to the station, that part of Russia’s business is also disappearing.

Since the latest invasion of Ukraine, much more serious sanctions are undermining Russia space service providers in world markets, along with other parts of the Russian economy. It is important to note that even before the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, Russia hardly had the economy of a superpower: Its gross domestic product was one-sixth that of the U.S.

The latest sanctions mean that foreign sales will not be available for the foreseeable future to prop up Russian space ventures. Growing social and military demands on the Russian government will limit its ability to prop up space ventures.

As well, many of the experts who kept Russian rockets and satellites flying are retiring or fleeing Russia along with other educated workers with marketable skills.

U.S. space ventures are on the rise thanks to its new space firms, and China is putting together an impressive list of achievements in space. Russia, which led the way into space with Sputnik, Vostok and other programs sixty years ago, is now on the brink of being consigned to the second rank of space faring nations, possibly in a partnership with China.

Russia’s fall from dominance in human spaceflight was well underway before the first Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine. The outcome of its war with Ukraine cannot be foreseen at the time of writing, but it is very likely to accelerate the decline of Russia’s place in space.

Vladimir Putin’s war appears to be dealing a final blow to Russia’s front rank position in space exploration, which it occupied for more than six decades. Along with the rise of America’s commercial space ventures, Russia’s backward step means that the future of spaceflight promises to be different from its past.

Friday, 15 April 2022

Bjarni Tryggvason, Canadian astronaut, 1945-2022

Bjarni Tryggvason aboard the shuttle Discovery during the STS-85 mission in 1997 (NASA)

By Chris Gainor

Special to the Globe and Mail

April 15, 2022

When Bjarni Tryggvason was 12 years old and living in Kitimat, B.C., the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite of the Earth, captured his imagination. Forty years later, after a series of setbacks, he made it into space himself, as a payload specialist aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1997.

He had already earned impressive credentials, having acquired his airline transport pilot’s licence and worked as a flight instructor at Ottawa’s Rockcliffe Airport, when the Canadian government announced it was hiring astronauts in July 1983. But it was his training as an engineer specializing in fluid dynamics that earned Mr. Tryggvason the job.

His engineering and science background exactly matched the qualifications set out for Canada’s space program, for which flying experience was listed only as an “asset.” Mr. Tryggvason was one of six people chosen out of nearly 4,400 applicants for Canada’s first team of astronauts.

He died suddenly in London, Ont., on April 5 at the age of 76.

Bjarni Valdimar Tryggvason was known to blaze his own path, beginning with his birth on Sept. 21, 1945, in Reykjavik, Iceland. When he was seven, he and his family immigrated to Canada.

Young Bjarni attended primary school in Nova Scotia before his family relocated to Kitimat, B.C., and later to Richmond, B.C. In 1972 he obtained a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in engineering physics from the University of British Columbia, and he went on to do graduate work in engineering, specializing in applied mathematics and fluid dynamics at the University of Western Ontario.

After conducting research in Japan and Australia and working as a meteorologist, Mr. Tryggvason was hired as a research officer at Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa in 1982, where he explored the effects of very high winds on buildings and was involved in probing the causes of the Ocean Ranger disaster that year. In 1983, the NRC was charged with hiring Canada’s first group of astronauts after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the U.S. invited Canada to fly its own astronauts on board the shuttle, and Mr. Tryggvason was involved in the negotiations between the two agencies.

In December 1983, the NRC revealed Canada’s first group of astronauts: physicians Roberta Bondar and Robert Thirsk, physiologist Ken Money, and engineers Marc Garneau, Steve MacLean and Mr. Tryggvason.

In the days before the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) was created in 1989 and established its modern headquarters in Longueuil, Que., life for the newly designated astronauts was far from glamorous, as recounted by author Lydia Dotto. The six shared a suite of three small offices in the back of an out-of-the-way NRC building in Ottawa. Mr. Tryggvason acted as a flying instructor for three of his colleagues who didn’t have pilot experience as the Canadians prepared to work with U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronauts who were experienced flyers. The four astronauts purchased a Cessna 172 for the lessons.

The NRC’s plans for an orderly sequence of Canadian astronaut flights were broken during the astronauts’ first month on the job in January 1984, when NASA announced that a Canadian would have a seat on the shuttle much earlier than anticipated. Mr. Garneau became the first Canadian to fly in space that October. Late in 1985, Mr. Tryggvason was named as the backup for Mr. MacLean for a shuttle mission scheduled for 1987.

A few weeks later, however, the loss of the shuttle Challenger and its crew on Jan. 28, 1986, grounded the shuttle fleet for nearly three years and the Canadian astronaut team for twice that long. Mr. Tryggvason spent the hiatus conducting research and continuing preparations for Mr. MacLean’s flight, which finally took place in 1992. During that time, Mr. Tryggvason and his wife, Lilyanna Zmijak had a son, Michael, and a daughter, Lauren. Mr. Tryggvason was known as a proud father until the end of his life.

These were years of uncertainty for Mr. Tryggvason, because he didn’t know whether the CSA would fund a flight for him. Most astronauts flew on the shuttle as mission specialists who had two years of NASA astronaut training. Canada’s astronauts were classed as payload specialists who had less training, and payload specialists were being phased out after the Challenger disaster. As time went on, Mr. Tryggvason had to look on as his colleagues received mission specialist training, including Chris Hadfield, who joined the Canadian astronaut team in 1992 and flew three years later, and Mr. Garneau, who made a second flight in 1996.

A few months later, when Mr. Tryggvason was named to the crew of the STS-85 shuttle mission, he told reporters: “It’s about time, eh?” Along with five NASA astronauts, Mr. Tryggvason lifted off aboard Discovery Aug. 7, 1997. The launch ended his wait of more than 13 years for a flight. He became Canada’s sixth astronaut in space.

His shuttle launch was also celebrated in Iceland, the land of his birth.

During the mission, Mr. Tryggvason conducted experiments with the Microgravity Isolation Mount, which he and UBC engineering professor Tim Salcudean designed to create perfect conditions for microgravity materials experiments free of the shaking and vibrations caused by astronauts, machinery and thrusters aboard spacecraft. Their device also flew aboard the Russian Mir Space Station and later on the International Space Station (ISS).

The STS-85 crew studied changes in the Earth’s atmosphere with the assistance of a free-flying payload, and tested equipment for the ISS during a mission that lasted 11 days and 20 hours over 185 orbits of the Earth covering 7.6 million kilometres.

A year later, Mr. Tryggvason joined Mr. Thirsk and NASA’s 17th group of astronauts to begin two years of mission specialist training at NASA’s Johnson Spaceflight Center, which qualified him to fly again on the shuttle and the ISS. But the opportunity never arose before he retired from the CSA in 2008 after 25 years as an astronaut. He became a visiting professor at Western University in London, Ont.

Mr. Tryggvason continued flying airplanes. To mark the centennial of the first flight by a powered aircraft in Canada, he flew a replica of that biplane, Alexander Graham Bell’s Silver Dart, from the ice on Bras d’Or Lake near Baddeck, N.S. The flight took place a day early, on Feb. 22, 2009, in the face of an unfavourable weather forecast for the anniversary day.

He enjoyed flying many types of planes, including acrobatic aircraft with his son, Michael, and he recently served as a technical adviser for the 2022 feature film Moonfall. Among his many honours was being named an associate member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and a member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.

Mr. Tryggvason leaves Ms. Zmijak and his children, Michael and Lauren Tryggvason.

Known for his mischievous sense of humour, Mr. Tryggvason could speak bluntly when confronted with substandard work. “He was the smartest engineer I ever met and a supremely skilled pilot,” Mr. Garneau, now a member of Parliament, recalled. Mr. Hadfield called him a “kind, funny, original man.”

Among the first to mourn his death was the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who posted his condolences on Twitter, noting that Mr. Tryggvason was “the first and only Iceland-born person in space.”

Bjarni Tryggvason with Chris Gainor in Toronto in 2009

Monday, 28 February 2022

Putin's War Returns Nuclear Weapons to Centre Stage

The outrage generated by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is matched by frustration over the limited nature of the outside world’s response to this serious breach of international norms.

Many countries have modulated their response to the Russian invasion to protect their own economic interests, but above all they are mindful of Russia’s possession of a gigantic nuclear arsenal, second only to that of the United States.

In case anyone missed the point, Putin reminded the world when he put his nuclear forces on alert in a move that recalls superpower confrontations of the Cold War, especially the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which is analyzed in my book The Bomb and America's Missile Age.

The Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, especially the coup that temporarily displaced Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, was a nervous time as the world wondered how those changes would affect the control and use of Soviet nuclear forces. Happily, the weapons went unused and Russia agreed to reduce its nuclear forces. The newly independent Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons on its territory.

In the euphoria that accompanied the end of the Cold War, the continuing danger posed by nuclear weapons faded from prominence, although the efforts of countries like North Korea and Iran to develop nuclear arsenals generated occasional headlines. U.S. President George W. Bush pulled the U.S. out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a cornerstone of nuclear weapons control, and gave Putin an excuse to reinvigorate his nuclear forces.

Three decades after the end of the Soviet Union, the nuclear worries that surrounded that event have suddenly returned to life as Putin tries to reconstitute the Soviet Union by propping up friendly dictators in Belarus and Kazakhstan, and now by invading Ukraine.

The creation of the first nuclear weapons in World War II and their spread since that time means the world faces grave danger whenever change or conflict involves the world’s nine nuclear powers. As we know, that includes Russia, but even the United States is a matter of concern because of its deepening political divisions. Nuclear weapons are present in the Middle East and are also held by India and Pakistan, both adversaries with shaky democracies. North Korea possesses nuclear weapons as a personal life insurance policy for its mercurial leader, Kim Jong-un. Iran’s troubled regime is developing them as well.

Following the Ukraine crisis with great interest is the world’s third largest nuclear power, China, whose president Xi Jinping harbours imperialist ambitions of his own, notably in Taiwan.

Efforts to limit proliferation of nuclear weapons have had limited success. South Africa gave up nuclear weapons after the fall of the apartheid regime that created them. Ukraine gave up the Soviet nuclear weapons left on its soil, but the Russian attacks on Ukraine will unfortunately serve as a warning to any country that contemplates giving up their nuclear bombs and delivery systems.

Regardless of how Putin’s gamble in Ukraine plays out, it is a major step backward for a world that desperately needs to unite to deal with the challenges of climate change. The nuclear bombs and the missiles, aircraft and submarines that carry them are often held to fight regional disputes or prop up contested governments. Questions exist about Putin’s mental state, not the first time such concerns have been raised during nuclear confrontations.

In the 77 years since the first atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, efforts to limit or reverse the spread of these weapons have always fallen short, particularly in the last three decades where the nuclear danger was forgotten or believed to have receded.

Now Putin has put the threat of annihilation from nuclear weapons back on centre stage. The first step to renewing the fight against this existential danger is greater awareness of the dangers these weapons pose, even when they are not being actively used.

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Will I be Writing a Book About JWST?

With Dr. Robert W. Smith (l) in 2011.

Since the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) on December 25, a few people have asked if I will be a writing a book about JWST to follow my recently published book, Not Yet Imagined: A Study of Hubble Space Telescope Operations (NASA, 2021).

The answer is no, and there is a story behind that ‘no.’

There is an excellent book on JWST being written by Dr. Robert W. Smith, who also wrote the classic study of how Hubble was conceived and built, a process that also took decades. His book on Hubble, The Space Telescope, A study of NASA, science, technology and politics, was first published in 1989, before Hubble was launched, and an updated paperback version was published in 1993.

His book contains many insights on how astronomers overcame divisions within their ranks to win government approval for Hubble, and then it outlines the work that went into building this space observatory.

Since it explained one of the most prominent space programs of its time, I purchased Dr. Smith’s book for my library when it came out and read it with great interest. Dr. Smith was based at the National Air and Space Museum and Johns Hopkins University when he wrote that book, and he later moved to Edmonton, Alberta, where he became chair of the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta.

As the new century began, I had written my first book of space history, Arrows to the Moon: Avro’s Engineers and the Space Race (Apogee Books, 2001), and I decided to earn a master’s degree in space studies at the University of North Dakota. When I completed that degree I decided to pursue further studies, and a promising avenue appeared at the University of Alberta.

I visited Dr. Smith in 2003 to inquire about studying the history of technology with him as my faculty advisor. I remember that he encouraged me to pursue studies for a Ph.D. That day we also discussed plans for a gigantic new space telescope that had just been named after the late NASA administrator, James Webb.

I spent the next few years on my Ph.D. studies, benefitting from Dr. Smith’s guidance and the many insights he had gained about Big Science projects such as the Hubble Space Telescope. By then, Dr. Smith had begun closely following the development of JWST, and I occasionally helped him with that work as graduate students often do.

My own Ph.D. studies focused on the years between World War II and the beginnings of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. That resulted in my dissertation, which became a book, The Bomb and America’s Missile Age (Johns Hopkins, 2018).

After I completed my dissertation, NASA was looking for someone to write a history of Hubble operations. Since Dr. Smith was working on his JWST book, he was unavailable for that project. Although I had not previously thought of writing a book about Hubble, I was available. With Dr. Smith's encouragement, I competed for that job and was selected in 2014 to write the book that covers the first three decades of HST operations. While writing that book, I received a great deal of helpful advice from Dr. Smith.

While at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center as I conducted research for my Hubble book, I regularly looked in on JWST, which was being assembled in a gigantic cleanroom there. JWST appears in my book, and scientists hope to coordinate obervations between the two space telescopes once JWST begins operations.

Both the Hubble and Webb telescopes are highly expensive and complicated, and both underwent challenging development processes before they got to their launch pads. The pre-launch history of JWST goes back more than two decades, so Dr. Smith’s upcoming book will be a substantial one. I don’t know the title yet, but I am looking forward to reading it when it is published.

I hope to write at least one more book to add to the six I have already written. I haven’t settled on a topic, but I have been keeping busy during the pandemic writing papers on the history of space astronomy in Canada.

Looking over JWST from the viewing room at Goddard Space Flight Center, 2016.

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Not Yet Imagined: A Study of Hubble Space Telescope Operations

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is the most famous astronomical instrument of its time and one of the best-known robotic vehicles ever put into space. Its launch and deployment into low-Earth orbit from the Space Shuttle Discovery in April 1990 appeared to fulfill the plans and dreams of astronomers since the beginnings of space exploration to place a telescope beyond the distorting effects of Earth’s atmosphere.

The first images from Hubble contained a stunning surprise: the space telescope’s main mirror had been precisely ground to the wrong shape. With the future of NASA on the line, scientists and engineers devised fixes for the spherical aberration afflicting Hubble, and astronauts flying on the first of five shuttle servicing missions to HST installed new instruments that restored the space telescope’s capabilities. Within weeks HST produced the breathtaking images and other data that astronomers and the public had long anticipated, and Hubble went on to become a symbol of American technological and scientific prowess.

My latest book, Not Yet Imagined: A Study of Hubble Space Telescope Operations, has been published by the NASA History Division. Its e-book versions are available for free download at https://www.nasa.gov/connect/ebooks/not-yet-imagined.html. Free hard copies of this book are available from the NASA Information Center, info-center@hq.nasa.gov, 202-358-0000, Suite 1U72, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC 20546. One per customer please.

This book documents the history of HST from its launch through its first 30 years of operation in space. It focuses on the interactions among the general public, astronomers, engineers, government officials, and members of Congress during that time. The decision-making behind the changes in Hubble’s instrument packages on servicing missions that made HST a model of supranational cooperation amongst scientists is chronicled, along with HST’s contributions to our knowledge about our solar system, our galaxy, and our universe. Not Yet Imagined also covers the impact of HST and the images it produces on the public’s appreciation for the universe, and how HST has changed the ways astronomy is done.

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Ian Sharp, Entrepreneur, 1932-2021

By Chris Gainor

Special to the Globe and Mail

July 23, 2021

The information technology companies of today with networked computers and casually dressed staff from diverse backgrounds were unheard of fifty years ago. Yet a company that met that description was headquartered in the heart of Toronto’s financial district in the 1960s through the 1980s.

That company was I.P. Sharp Associates, a Canadian software and communications firm that was a world leader in terms of networking and organization in the decades before the internet revolutionized business and life. Its unorthodox but beloved leader was Ian Sharp, who died in Sarasota, Florida, on July 16, a few months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He was 89.

I.P. Sharp Associates, also known as IPSA, pioneered many computer networking applications that were years ahead of their time, including database systems to support financial markets and the aviation and energy industries, a real-time global financial system to manage interbank money market exposures, an international stock settlement system, a real-time energy trading platform, and an international stock borrowing and lending system, among others.

Under Mr. Sharp’s leadership, the company was also famous for its lack of hierarchy and its informal style of work. Its employees were posted around the world and were described as “an eclectic mix of people” who didn’t fall within the racial, gender or credential limitations of the last century.

Ian Patrick Sharp was born on March 25, 1932, in Dublin, Ireland. His Irish mother and Scottish father resided in London, but his mother insisted on going home to give birth. He was raised in London and Leeds, with a wartime evacuation back to Dublin. He later trained as a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force during his National Service, then studied engineering at Cambridge University.

While working as a management trainee in the British steel industry, Mr. Sharp was put to work on a Ferranti Pegasus computer, a 1950s British computer that like most similar machines of the time used vacuum tubes to control electrical currents.

When the computer project wound down, Mr. Sharp decided to seek opportunities elsewhere and emigrated to Canada in 1960. In Toronto he found work as chief programmer at Ferranti's Canadian branch, Ferranti-Packard Ltd., where he headed a small team that wrote the operating system and compilers for a mainframe computer, the Ferranti-Packard 6000.

Most computers of the time were mainframe machines that filled large rooms and required cooling systems and large amounts of electrical power. Their computing power was only a small fraction of that available on today’s smart phones. As the 1960s began, transistors and other semiconductor devices, which used less power and took less space, replaced vacuum tubes and opened the door to more powerful and sophisticated computers.

The FP 6000, which Mr. Sharp called a “great giant beast” of a computer, was one of the first computers capable of multitasking. Only six of the computers were sold, with customers including the Saskatchewan Power Corporation, the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Department of National Defence, and the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Ferranti and its Canadian branch were withdrawing from the computing field at the time the Ferranti-Packard 6000 came into production, but the computer became the model for a generation of more powerful mainframes built by another British maker.

While on a trip to London in 1961, Mr. Sharp interviewed and hired a programmer at Ferranti named Audrey Williams who wished to transfer to the Canadian branch. They married in 1963 and had a son and a daughter. Although Mrs. Sharp took time out for family duties, she worked as a programmer at I.P. Sharp throughout its existence and organized the annual Christmas party for employees’ children.

When Ferranti-Packard folded its computer division, Mr. Sharp and six colleagues formed I. P. Sharp Associates in 1964. Over the next 23 years the company grew into a multinational enterprise, with about 600 employees in 60 branches in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. I.P. Sharp’s Fortune 500 clients included Morgan Stanley, Hitachi, McGraw Hill, the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, British Petroleum, Xerox, Credit Suisse, and Kodak.

While the roots of the internet are commonly credited to the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. military starting in 1969, I.P. Sharp Associates was often on the scene with its own versions of internet technologies during those years before the internet became widespread in the 1990s.

In work championed by one of the firm’s co-founders, Roger D. Moore, IPSA made time available to customers on its mainframes across Canada and then farther afield. Said Mr. Sharp: “You hear a lot these days about the cloud. What we were doing in those days was the cloud.”

The firm also hired the developer of the APL computer language, Kenneth E. Iverson, to work with Moore and others to advance the language to a version known as SHARP APL. It also offered its own form of email in APL long before email become commonly available, and it was widely used in the company for business and personal purposes.

Mr. Sharp was well known for giving free rein to very bright and driven employees – casual dress and flex-time were taken for granted at I.P. Sharp. “Our company had incredible diversity, but at the time we didn’t realize it,” said former employee Hugh Hyndman.

One of Mr. Hyndman’s colleagues, Jane Minett, remembers going to work for the company after having been introduced to it as a customer. She was appointed the manager of I.P. Sharp’s Calgary office at age 26, which raised eyebrows in the city’s still conservative business environment of the 1970s.

Already by 1973, I.P. Sharp had an electronic mail system known as Mailbox. Leslie Goldsmith was a 16-year-old high school student that year when he managed to overcome the system’s security features, and so he was hired to build an all-new email system called 666 Box that was more secure. “In 1973, that was a bold move,” he said. I.P. Sharp’s early email and networking systems often ran afoul of telephone and communications monopolies in various parts of the world, something Mr. Sharp called a “constant irritation” that he had to deal with.

“Ian never sought the limelight and was content to do well for the customer in any way he could,” Mr. Goldsmith explained. His colleague Lib Gibson had a story to illustrate the point: “I remember people urging Ian to dump a painful, overdue Morgan Stanley project. There was no contractual penalty. ‘But we gave our word,’ said Ian. That was the end of that.”

Both Ms. Minett and Mr. Hyndman said the soft-spoken Mr. Sharp’s style was a textbook example of management by walking around. He made a point of conversing with employees at all levels of the company and let them make their own decisions. Ms. Gibson said he did not choose employees based on credentials, and he did not punish failure, which freed people to take risks. “He would never set anyone up for failure though – and would be there when you needed an ear,” said Roseanne Wild, Mr. Sharp’s longtime assistant.

“The people the company recruited had a variety of backgrounds, often with a strong mathematical orientation,” former employee Scott Remborg remembered. “In interview situations Ian was less interested in someone’s Computer Science background and more interested in what else they knew. He knew the company could teach people particular skills so he would, with a wry smile, ask ‘so what else do you know?’”

Reuters, which wanted to move into the field of financial databases, acquired I.P. Sharp Associates in 1987, but the company’s spirit of enthusiasm and camaraderie lived on. Twenty-seven years after the sale, 200 “Sharpies” gathered in Toronto for a party to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the company’s creation.

Another legacy of I.P. Sharp Associates involves the notable careers its employees led after the company wound up. Ms. Gibson, Mr. Goldsmith and Ms. Minett were among several former I.P. Sharp employees who were involved in building business information services for The Globe and Mail. Ms. Minett, Mr. Remborg and other I.P. Sharp alumni helped create Sympatico, an early national internet provider jointly run by Bell Canada and other Canadian telephone carriers.

Mr. Sharp retired in 1989. He and his wife had already began spending winter breaks on Longboat Key on the west coast of Florida, and soon they became residents and eventually U.S. citizens. In retirement, Mr. Sharp became an avid tennis player, hanging up his racquet only eight weeks before his passing. His enjoyment of Bridge moved online when the COVID-19 pandemic began last year. Mr. Sharp was a longtime volunteer for Meals on Wheels, and he helped out other charitable causes.

Mr. Sharp is survived by his wife of 57 years, Audrey, daughter Helen, son Matthew, and three grandchildren.

Friday, 23 July 2021

2021 - Another Turning Point for Spaceflight?

The year 2020 saw the end of the long gap between launches of crewed spacecraft from American soil when the first Crew Dragon spacecraft departed Kennedy Space Center for the International Space Station nearly nine years after end of the Space Shuttle program.

This year is heralding the end of an even longer gap in human spaceflight – the decades that have passed since anyone has flown beyond low Earth orbit.

That began when Apollo 17 returned home from the Moon in December 1972, and NASA’s sights shifted to LEO with Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, the Space Shuttle, and then what became the International Space Station.

There was no serious talk of humans going beyond LEO until the 20th anniversary of Apollo 11 in 1989, when President George H.W. Bush announced his Space Exploration Initiative, which called for permanent occupation of the Moon and a human voyage to Mars. The initiative met a hostile reception in Congress and little enthusiasm from NASA, then still recovering from the Challenger disaster.

The initiative’s failure and the effort involved in getting the ISS into space squelched further talk of escaping near-Earth space until 2004, when President George W. Bush announced his Vision for Space Exploration, which led to the end of the Space Shuttle and the beginning of the Constellation program that targeted a return to the Moon and eventual exploration of Mars.

When Barack Obama became president five years later, his administration proceeded to terminate the shuttle. Constellation was wound down, although Congress retained parts of it in the form of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, which is still being built today. During that time, Orion was targeted for missions to asteroids, a goal that had little support outside the administration.

The signature space effort of the Obama years became the Commercial Crew program that built on a smaller initiative from the George W. Bush years, which began bearing fruit with last year’s first SpaceX Crew Dragon missions. While the Ares rockets from Constellation were cancelled, the Space Launch System replaced Ares at the insistence of Congress.

President Donald Trump’s administration became well-known for working hard to overturn Obama administration policies and having the compliment returned starting this year by the administration of President Joe Biden. The big exception to this rule is turning out to be space, including Trump’s creation of the U.S. Space Force.

Commercial Crew continued without interruption through the Trump years, and Trump and his NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine launched the Artemis program with the goal of landing humans on the Moon, including the first woman, no later than 2024. Like earlier NASA human exploration proposals, Artemis envisions a long-term human presence on the Moon and expeditions to Mars. With the exception of the 2024 deadline, Artemis survived intact through the transition to the Biden administration.

The Biden administration’s endorsement of Artemis in February broke the pattern of short-lived NASA programs aimed at sending humans beyond LEO that didn’t survive the administration that created them. A common thread between Artemis and the programs that preceded it, starting with Constellation, is the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System to carry it to space.

The new administration’s decision to continue with Artemis, which greatly increases the likelihood of new human flights to the Moon, could make 2021 a turning point in the history of space exploration. Most of the story of Artemis remains to be told, including its first test flight, scheduled for late this year. And questions still remain over major elements of the program, notably the Lunar Gateway and the Human Landing System.

With Artemis nearing the launch pad, there will be work for historians examining the lengthy roots of that program and the complicated politics over the past two decades that led to today’s U.S. human space exploration programs.

This is also the year when long promised and long delayed advances in space tourism are becoming reality, in the form of suborbital flights by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin spacecraft and the first purely private flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon. The seventh decade of the era of human spaceflight holds potential unseen since its first decade.