Thanks, Elon Musk. It's partly because of the SpaceX founder that two more Canadians could visit the International Space Station in coming years.
While the world is wowed by Musk's self-landing rockets and touchscreen-friendly Tesla cars, Musk's company SpaceX regularly sends cargo (sometimes mice, too) to the International Space Station. His objective is to bring humans there as well.
So Canada just announced that it will recruit two new astronauts. The forthcoming human-rated Dragon spacecraft—as well as Boeing's CST-100—can ferry more humans to the space station than the Russian Soyuz craft used today. The first flights leave in 2017, if the schedule holds.
But time is tight. Canadians only have until Aug. 15 to apply, which worries CSA officials, because it's summertime. The students and academics being recruited are on vacation, so they could miss their chance if they're not checking social media regularly.
Why bother with summer, then? The selection process takes an entire year, and Canada wanted to be on board for NASA's next astronaut class in August 2017, Gilles Leclerc, CSA's director-general of space exploration, told Motherboard shortly after the recruitment was announced Friday at Ottawa's Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
The CSA especially wants to extend the invitation to more genders. The last two astronauts, who were recruited in 2008-09, were men.
"We're calling in particular to women," said Leclerc, adding a joke about where humans could go next. "Mars needs women. Space needs women."
The recruitment comes when a lot of things are changing for Canada, Leclerc said. After years of waiting since Chris Hadfield's famous 2012-13 flight, Canadian David Saint-Jacques flies to the space station in November 2018. This means the new astronauts could be supporting his mission as they complete two years of basic astronaut training.
The new astronauts, once they're selected, will likely be Earthbound for several more years yet. Jeremy Hansen, who was recruited with Saint-Jacques in 2009, is still not assigned to a flight. He won't go until at least 2023, although the CSA is lobbying to bring him there sooner.
Canada funds 2.3 percent of station operations, and is thus entitled to that proportion of crew time and science experiment time, Leclerc said. Flights are few to the ISS these days because the Soyuz only holds three people, and a typical space station rotation happens every three months. This means only about 12 people fly to space every year.
This is a paltry amount since the space shuttle retired; that spacecraft used to hold up to seven astronauts per crew.
But the CST-100 and Dragon can each hold up to seven per flight, which means there's hope that Hansen could get to space a little bit sooner. And with the space station likely not retiring until at least 2024, it's possible at least another Canadian flight could head to the orbiting complex. Some at NASA suggest the ISS could fly until 2030.
Leclerc said Hansen and Saint-Jacques are young enough that they could do more flights, but the CSA wanted to have more astronauts on hand for the bigger spacecraft. As for where the astronauts could go after the ISS retires, Leclerc said NASA hasn't decided. Possibilities include visiting the moon, an asteroid or going on to Mars (a location that, by the way, Musk also wants to colonize).
This will be the fourth recruitment campaign for Canadians. Of the 12 Canadian astronauts in history, only eight have flown in space so far.