Enacting NASA North: The Uses of Science Policy and the Creation of the Canadian Space Agency

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“Enacting NASA North: The Uses of Science Policy and the Creation of the Canadian Space Agency” by Shannon Brown
Published in Quest Volume: 28 #3 (2021)


Winner: 2020 Sacknoff Prize for Space History.

In March 1989, more than two decades after it was first proposed, the Canadian Space Agency was established and its headquarters located in Montréal. This article examines the fierce national debate about the agency before, and in the immediate aftermath, of its creation. After briefly describing early visions of a nation-building space agency for Canada in the 1960s, I introduce competing enactments of the agency that emerged in the 1980s. As interest in the commercial aspects of outer space grew, questions about what the agency should do, who it should serve, and where it should be located energized a broad public. Arguments about the agency’s proper location—the national capital of Ottawa or the global city of Montréal—also raised the value of federalism, regional economic development, and globalization against the backdrop of constitutional crisis and uncertainty about the francophone province of Québec’s status in Confederation. In addition to government records, I draw on hundreds of French- and English-language newspaper reports, editorials, letters to the editor, and political cartoons that reflect Canadians’ demands to be heard in the process of making science policy. Taking their ideas about what the agency should be seriously, I argue, allows us to rethink the administration of space exploration as a site for the contestation of needs, belonging, and Canada’s political, economic, and international future. During the turbulent 1980s, the question of how to govern space exploration enabled journalists, bureaucrats, scientists, engineers, and citizens to think beyond their nation’s borders, even as it brought the foundations of the country into question.


Brown, Shannon. “Enacting NASA North: The Uses of Science Policy and the Creation of the Canadian Space Agency.” Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly 28, no. 3 (2021): 7-21.

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More Information

  • Archive ID # G301214
  • Format: Document (PDF)
  • Author/Creator:
  • Publication Year: 2021
  • Publisher: Quest
  • Copyright Status: Copyrighted
  • Copyright Holder: SPACE 3.0
  • Language: English
  • Number of Pages: 16
  • Type: History
  • Subject:
  • Collection: Quest
  • Availability: Digital Download