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New head of Canadian Space Agency working on 10-year space plan

The new head of the Canadian Space Agency says he’s working with other government partners on a 10-year space plan — but he isn’t letting on where he wants to take the organization.

In his first public speech since getting the job in August, Walt Natynczyk said his role is to work for the success of the Canadian space community and build relationships with government departments.

“The Canadian space community is really a small family — and enabling all of them, because of the talents that are there and trying to find the right resources, at the right time, to make the right investments, that’s my job,” he said Thursday.

Natynczyk made the comments during an animated speech at the annual summit of the Canadian Space Society.

It was one year ago this month that former cabinet minister David Emerson criticized the Canadian space program, saying it had been floundering.

Emerson also presented a report then that recommended the CSA’s core funding be stabilized over a 10-year period.

Natynczyk told reporters he is sifting through each of the report’s recommendations and looking at how the space agency can “pragmatically” implement them.

“We’re working with our government partners right now to try to figure that out,” he said.

Natynczyk added he can’t say when the public will get some idea of his plans for the space agency.

The retired chief of defence staff replaced former astronaut Steve MacLean, who quit earlier this year.

During his term, MacLean put together a five-year space plan and made recommendations to the Harper government but no action was taken.

Natynczyk’s wide-ranging speech, which focused on Canada’s past successes in space, also entertained his audience of scientists, academics and industry representatives.

He walked around without a microphone, shouting out at the room and joking they knew more about space than he did.

Chuck Black, treasurer of the Canadian Space Commerce Society, said the new president “made all the right noises” during his speech.

“However, he also spent a lot of time indicating that most of the specifics of the solution are still in progress,” Black added.

“So naturally we should wait six months before we pass any final judgment.”

The Canadian Space Society kicked off its two-day summit with a keynote speech by NASA’s Bill Gerstenmaier, an administrator with the space agency’s human-exploration program.

He said in an interview he sees a role for Canada in NASA’s proposed mission to an asteroid.

“We’re looking for international partnerships, we’re looking for robotic devices that could be part of that mission,” Gerstenmaier said, noting that about 400 ideas have been put forward.

“We’re looking for innovative creative ways that other countries, other partners can participate.

The NASA official said he expects a manned crew to visit an asteroid “sometime in the mid-20s.”