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Book Cover - Defence & Discovery ~ Canada’s Military Space Program 1945-74

Defence and Discovery:
Canada’s Military Space Program, 1945-1974

by Andrew B. Godefroy

Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011
238 pages, $32.95

ISBN: 978-0-7748-1960-2

Reviewed by Randall Wakelam

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When Canadians think of the Canadian military experience, they are inclined to include such topics as the Canadian Corps at Vimy, the RCN in the Battle of the Atlantic, or the RCAF’s leadership in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. They are less likely, much less likely, to consider the role of defence scientists and policy makers in Canada’s contributions to space security and defence issues in the first 30 years of the Cold War. Andrew Godefroy’s Defence and Discovery provides a corrective to this circumstance. Godefroy has translated his lifelong fascination with space and his expertise, garnered from working in the Canadian Force’s Directorate of Space Development, into a fascinating story of Canada’s important contributions to defence on the ‘final frontier.’ As importantly, his research adds another layer to Canada’s contributions to alliance defence during the first decades of the Cold War, a period during which space advancements were generally seen as a struggle between the two superpowers, with little-or-no involvement by, no pun intended, satellite nations. Finally, he gives us a sense of how defence in the modern era needs to be a collaborative effort between functionaries, scientists, and technologists, and those in uniform.

The book is organized, as the author explains, both by topic and chronologically, but most evident is the sequential flow that begins with a brief history of the mobilization of scientists during the Second World War, which then led in the first days of the post war reorganization to the creation of the Defence Research Board (DRB) under Dr. Omond Solandt. While the DRB would have several areas of interest, Godefroy’s purpose is to examine space, and he takes us from studies of the upper atmosphere, to rocketry and satellites, most notably, the Allouette, through Canada’s first and not insignificant efforts in missile defence, and finally, to the shift in focus of space efforts from defence to telecommunications, with the eventual formalization of a cabinet policy to that effect. One underlying theme, which will not be unfamiliar to those who have served in the Canadian Forces in past decades, is the drift of defence researchers away from defence needs to pure scientific research – science for the sake of science.  A theme second is the general absence of a coherent national policy or plan on military, and even civilian needs and uses of space until the late-1960s. From that point on, and even today, Godefroy shows how military requirements have been generally downplayed, while attention has remained on communications and research.

The work is well-illustrated, allowing readers to see both the scientists and the various technologies that are the central characters in the book. All along, Godefroy gives us vignettes of the major participants, and ties their efforts back to both national and alliance concerns and programs. If there is one caution with this work, it is that the discussions of the actual sciences involved may exceed the knowledge and understanding of the average reader. The inclusion of a glossary, and perhaps a bit more explanation of the science would have been useful, but the author’s message is certainly not lost, even upon the unscientific. There is also a comprehensive index and list of sources, as well as a chronology and a table of abbreviations.

Much of the work is based upon extensive use of primary sources, but Godefroy has also, of necessity, sought out materials from a range of atypical sources. In a short ‘Short Note on Sources,’ he provides his own caution, stating that there remains a lack of good history dealing with Canadian science and technology; he also informs readers that there is a large body of primary material which remains classified for reasons of national or alliance security.

For these very reasons, Godefroy says that he has only just scratched the surface of Canada’s contributions to space security. Perhaps he is correct in this, but at the same time, it is clear that this is an important and illuminating ‘first scratch,’ one which opens our understanding of what in the 21st Century is likely to become an increasingly important area of defence activity.

Colonel (ret’d) Randall Wakelam, CD, PhD, a former highly experienced tactical helicopter pilot, is an Assistant Professor in the War Studies Post Graduate Degree Program at the Royal Military College of Canada.