York professor dreams of an all-Canadian mission to Mars

Brendan Quine is rooting as fiercely as any member of the Beagle 2 team for the spunky British spacecraft to have landed successfully on Mars despite days of disappointing radio silence, wrote Toronto Star science reporter Peter Calamai in a Dec. 28 feature on the York University professor’s own Mars probe. Quine, a physics professor with York’s Faculty of Pure & Applied Science, hopes to speed a Canadian version of the probe to Mars and a Beagle success would greatly boost both public interest and financing prospects for the estimated $200 million project, wrote Calamai. Quine’s Northern Light proposal is the most ambitious – and also the longest shot – of several Canadian missions that could be heading to the red planet this decade. Almost guaranteed a trip is a device to measure dust and water-ice clouds in the Martian atmosphere, designed by other York space scientists, that is scheduled to fly in 2007 aboard Phoenix, a confirmed NASA mission.

Quine believes Canadian scientists can have an entire Martian probe to themselves in 2009 – not just be part of someone else’s – by following in Beagle’s paw prints, Calamai continued. Cloning the vessel and the system that deposits it on the planet would slash development costs, Quine said, freeing up money for Canadian-designed scientific instruments and a mini-rover called Beaver.

“Going to Mars is the most exciting science around and Canada has the expertise to do this both scientifically and technologically,” said the 32-year-old professor. The British-born Quine was speaking by phone from England, where he attended university and worked nine years for the company that is the prime contractor for Beagle 2 and its orbiting mother ship, the Mars Express. “Beagle will demonstrate that you can do planetary exploration with the kind of money that countries like Canada and Britain can afford to spend,” he said.

Marc Garneau, the veteran astronaut in charge of the Canadian Space Agency and a 2002 recipient of a York University honorary doctorate, has been publicly lobbying without success for two years to get extra federal funds for a Mars mission, reported Calamai. The agency has no money for such space science because it is still paying for the Mulroney government’s decision to be part of Ronald Reagan’s “Freedom” space station. “We’re hoping that the new Martin government might want to support sending Canadian instruments to Mars,” said Quine.

In other Mars-mission coverage, Paul Delaney, astronomy professor with York’s Faculty of Pure & Applied Science, commented on CTV news programs on Dec. 25 and 26, on the progress of the elusive Beagle 2 lander, which had been expected to land around Dec. 25.

Mayor favours bus-only lanes to York

Mayor David Miller advocates bus-only lanes as a cheaper alternative to extending subways to areas such as York University, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 22 in a story about how new legislation is giving buses the advantage in road wars.

New era ahead for teachers

Pastor Valle-Garay, a Spanish-language lecturer with York’s Faculty of Arts, cheered Education Minister Gerard Kennedy “for eliminating the ludicrous teacher testing in Ontario,” in a letter to the Toronto Star printed Dec. 22. “It was an honourable and courageous decision,” he wrote. “Hopefully Kennedy’s dismissal of the divisive teaching test will serve as a constant reminder to teachers, parents and voters never again to allow its educational system to be held hostage by ignorant bureaucrats” and “will help stem the tide of Canadian teachers heading for the US and elsewhere, and provide a signal of the dawning of a new era for our battered school system.”

When to retire a thorny issue

“Mandatory retirement policies have become wedged between politicians’ reluctance to tackle the issue and the Supreme Court’s unwillingness to treat the right to work past age 65 as a fundamental human right,” York University labour expert Thomas Klassen told CanWest News Service. In a story printed in The Edmonton Journal Dec. 21, Klassen, a social science professor with York’s Faculty of Arts, said, although legislation in Canada is largely up to the provinces, Prime Minister Paul Martin – who wants to abolish mandatory retirement – and his Liberals can play a role by changing the age of the Canadian Pension Plan so that it wouldn’t penalize people who want to stay on the job, a move that would encourage a trend of older workers. “I think he’s right and he’s the right person to say it because he’s 65 and he’s just starting a new job and he wants to have it for a while,” Klassen said. He pointed out that the vast majority of Canadians still want to retire by age 65 and he said that they should continue to have that choice. “We’re beginning to see a re-thinking of anything that is mandatory,” he said.

Assessing the deal to reopen Yukon’s Faro mine

In a Dec. 21 feature on the abandoned lead/zinc mine in Faro, Yukon, The Edmonton Journal interviewed Bruce Lourie, who earned a masters of environmental studies degree from York in 1987. At York, Lourie had studied a 1985 deal in which Curragh Resources had made a conditional offer to reopen the mine but had no intention of inheriting a $51-million reclamation bill to clean up the polluted site. The company “clearly had the upper hand in negotiating the conditions for reopening the mine,” said Lourie. “Curragh’s demands reflected their awareness of the government’s desperation to see the mine reopen. Consequently, some of the final decisions may have resulted in unnecessary sacrifices on the part of the government.”

Outspoken law professor has made career out of challenging state’s power

Alan Young, a professor with York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, was profiled in the Toronto Star Dec. 21. “For Young, 46, pushing boundaries is standard fare,” wrote Tracey Tyler of the lawyer who is at the forefront of the battle to decriminalize marijuana. “From defending a dominatrix who ran a ‘bondage bungalow’ to a shopkeeper charged with selling ‘obscene’ records, the Harvard-educated, self-described ‘neurotic’ has made a career out of challenging the state’s power to use the criminal law to intrude into people’s lives – and a name for himself as a controversial scholar and showman.” 

Young also commented on the Supreme Court of Canada upholding the pot laws in Canada, on news programs Dec. 23 and 24 on CP24-TV, City-tv and Toronto1.

York one of three schools to do pay equity study

In a Dec. 20 story about pay equity initiatives at the University of Calgary, the Calgary Herald mentioned that York University, the University of Western Ontario and McGill University have all done pay equity studies in the past five years.

Conference anecdote

Toronto Star book editor Philip Marchand recounted on Dec. 20, critic George Steiner’s story about the rivalry between Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan, told at the recent Living Literacies conference at York University, which was organized by novelist and essayist Bruce Powe, a lecturer at York’s Schulich School of Business. Marchand said Steiner concluded his anecdote by reminding his audience that “Toronto was at that moment, and will be again, an absolute centre for the studies of letters and humanities.”

On air

  • Joseph Levy, professor at York’s School of Health Policy & Management, talked about the value of games, on TVO’s phone-in show “More to Life” Dec. 19.
  • Holly Small, dance professor with York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, commented on Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre’s annual performance of Wintersong, on TVO’s “Studio 2” Dec. 19.
  • Fred Lazar, professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, discussed the general performance of worldwide, low cost carriers and major network carriers before Sept. 11, 2001, compared to now, on “AM Business” and “Business Day” (ROB-TV) Dec. 23.