Halloween won’t be the same this year. Trick or treating will be minimal across much of the country, if it happens at all. The same with Halloween parties for adults. COVID-19 is making this a scary holiday for the wrong reasons.
But we could use this time to think about our priorities. For example, you might not be aware that the money we spend on costumes and candy for kids considerably exceeds what it costs to send Canadian Astronauts and scientific instruments to space.
The 2020-21 budget for the Canadian Space Agency is around $325 million. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians spent about $550 million just on candy and snacks in October 2018 — a significant portion of which would be Halloween candy. Of course we spent even more on costumes, decorations, parties and pumpkins. So it seems plausible to suggest that Halloween costs about twice as much as the space program.
That works out to about $8.75 per Canadian for space and something like $16.00 to celebrate Halloween.
Perspective on money spent in space
The space program is sometimes criticized for spending vast sums to send people or robots to space when there are serious problems to solve down here on Earth.
It’s true that individual space missions can cost tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars. But since Canada does not build big rockets, our costs as participants, which are estimated to contribute $100 million annually to Canada’s gross domestic product, are relatively low.
And when you look at the payback from exploring space, it can seem like a pretty good deal for less than ten bucks a year.
On Halloween, young children dress up as monsters or superheroes and wander the neighbourhood asking strangers for handouts of candy, which we know isn’t the healthiest of foods.
On the other hand, for a mere $10, we get true superheroes. Canadian astronauts are living role models and have inspired young people both while flying in space and during school visits to pursue their dreams.
As Chris Hadfield says, “The sky is not the limit.”
Canada’s key contributions in space
Beyond astronauts, Canadians also contribute to space exploration by developing satellites and scientific instruments built to the highest standards of engineering excellence.
We were the third country in space way back in 1962 with Alouette 1. We put up communication satellites, such as the Anik series, and the Radarsat constellation, which provides high resolution images of the ground — day or night — and traces the loss of ice in the Arctic.
A Canadian LIDAR aboard the recent OSIRIS REX mission used a laser to map the surface of Asteroid Bennu so a spot could be chosen to retrieve a sample. And another Canadian LIDAR was aboard the Mars Phoenix Lander in 2008 that shone a laser into the Martian sky to track the passage of clouds.
The Curiosity rover currently driving around on Mars carries a Canadian instrument called the APXS that uses X-rays to measure the chemical composition of rocks.
And of course there are the robotic Canadarms which rode on the Space Shuttles and currently operate on the International Space Station. Canadarm 3 is in development for the new Lunar Gateway space station that will be placed in orbit around the moon.
Not bad for ten bucks a year. We spend far more on beer and hockey.
Now, this could be seen as a bit of “Bah-humbug”-ing. But in fact, it’s more an argument that we have money for many things, including dressing up in costumes and throwing Halloween parties.
And if we need to make judgments about spending money that could be better used for other purposes, then we ought to be properly informed about how much we’re spending and what we’re getting for it.
On that basis there’s a pretty good argument for Canada’s space program.