Prime Minister Stephen Harper's appointment of the former head of the Canadian Forces to act as the new president of the Canadian Space Agency is sparking some concerns that Canada's space program may become too closely aligned with the military.
"My concern is that we may be seeing the increased militarization of Canada’s involvement in space," said Steven Staples, the president of the Rideau Institute, in a statement. "Our role will move away from the scientific exploration toward the military exploitation of space."
Walt Natynczyk, who retired from the military last year after serving four years as chief of the defence staff, will officially take over the CSA on August 6.
"The stage is being set for Canada's increased involvement in the militarization, and potential weaponization, of space," said Staples.
For the past 40 to 50 years, the unofficial motto of Canada's space program has been "the peaceful uses of space," said CBC's Greg Weston, adding several former prime ministers have "all said no to Star Wars."
He said appointing Natynczyk "moves Canada's entire space program image-wise in a whole new direction."
Some industry representatives are welcoming the appointment.
One official in the aerospace sector welcomed the quick appointment, noting Natynczyk has had a distinguished career.
Natynczyk will replace Steve MacLean who left unexpectedly last February. Gilles Leclerc is currently filling in as interim president.
The announcement of Natynczyk’s appointment was made Friday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as part of a broader shuffle in the public service.
Among others given new jobs was Margaret Biggs, who has run the Canadian International Development Agency since 2008.
Biggs had been leading the agency’s merger into the Department of Foreign Affairs but will now join the Privy Council Office as a senior adviser.
Her replacement at CIDA will be Paul Rochon, a former associate deputy minister of health.