by Andray Domise
Originally published: May 2, 2017
Last week, the Canadian Space Agency announced that its search for two new astronauts has been narrowed down to the final 17 candidates. The agency, along with Minister Navdeep Bains (of the gargantuan Innovation, Science, and Economic Development portfolio) presented a roster of engineers, doctors, and scientists, all vying for the prize of ambling about the stars in bubble helmets. At a time when science itself has been under attack from climate deniers, anti-vaccine dullards, and even the Canadian government itself, it was an encouraging change of tone. But there was one vexing fact about the lineup of candidates: all of them were white. In fact, despite the increasing ethnic diversity of the STEM fields in Canada, our nation has only ever been able to send white people into space.
To be clear, I don’t believe that the Canadian Space Agency is in any way a racist institution. The CSA is limited in its selection by the application pool it receives, and if the pool is skewed towards white Canadians (which, if anything, might be attributed to simple demographic realities), all it can do is choose the best and brightest from that lot. The 17-person shortlist of candidates were themselves drawn from a 72-person peer group, which did include several people of colour. The number of Canadians who have been in space or are expected to go to space will number less than 15, even after the end of this selection process—but if they all happen to be white, it will be symptomatic of a larger problem within our educational system.