From Silver Dart to Outer Space

Province Herald, Nova Scotia
October 2, 2007

Astronaut tells crowd of Cape Breton kids to use Bell as inspiration during anniversary celebrations

BADDECK – Cape Breton’s population could take a nosedive in the next century, since about 1,000 children are hoping to move to outer space.

Nearly every hand rocketed into the air Monday when Roberta Bondar asked her audience at Baddeck Academy who among them wanted to explore beyond the stars. Dr. Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut, encouraged the students to follow their dreams, the same way that Alexander Graham Bell and his colleagues pursued their own flight aspirations 100 years ago.

“(Without) the work of things like the Silver Dart … we wouldn’t have been able to fly into space,” she told the children. “It’s really important to … understand where we’ve come from to know where we’re going.”

Dr. Bondar’s speech was one of the activities Monday that marked the centennial of the Aerial Experiment Association. On October 1, 1907, Mr. Bell met with Canadian engineers Douglas McCurdy and Casey Baldwin, and Americans Glenn Curtiss and Lt. Thomas Selfridge to convince them of his dream to take flight.

Several of the group’s earlier models lifted off the ground, but the association is best known for the Silver Dart. The controlled-power aircraft took flight Feb. 23, 1909 and zoomed through the sky over frozen Baddeck Bay.

Children today, however, have even higher aspirations – literally. These kids want to start a rocket club.

“How are we going to learn more about science if we don’t have a rocket club?” Dr. Bondar a medical doctor, asked the audience. “Do you want a rocket club?”

Their roar matched that of two CF-18 fighter jets that flew over the school Monday afternoon.

‘I’ve always wanted to go to Mars’

Dr. Bondar gave the kids anecdotes and information about space travel for future club meetings.

“There is an experimental spacecraft right now that can take you guys up … into space for five minutes,” she said. “It costs a little bit of money.”

The newly designed rocket can come down quickly by “feathering” itself like a badminton birdie rather than dropping straight down, she said.

But the Grade 6 students have already learned the same principles of flight that Mr. Bell and his partners conquered nearly a century ago. Mike Lucas’s 31 students at the academy have spent the past month discovering how to launch an aircraft and keep it flying. Hand-coloured paper airplanes whiz through the air outside the school, where the children had gathered earlier to watch the CF-18s zip through the air at twice the speed of sound.

Anne Anderson, 11, can’t wait for a rocket club to start, but she’s having second thoughts about going into space herself.

“At first I really wanted to be on a rocket ship,” she said. “But then I heard how hard it was.”

Dr. Bondar’s description of the space shuttle’s bathroom situation, which involves hoses, vacuum and thigh restraints, might have had something to do with the change of heart, Anne said.

But Jonathan MacDonald, 11, said he still wants to fly among the stars. “I’ve always wanted to go to Mars, I read about the Rover and I’ve always wanted to explore it myself,” he said.

“Will I get there? Well, as they said, just keep following your dream.”