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Toronto space convention exposes issues on Earth and beyond

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One of the world's biggest space gatherings just wrapped up in Toronto. Thousands of delegates gathered for the 65th International Astronautical Congress for five days of meetings and workshops covering everything from space debris to the law of outer space. But the conference was also marred by modern day politics.It began with news that the Russian and Chinese delegations were denied visas by the Canadian government, leaving two of the world's leading space agencies conspicuous by their absence. It also left the head of Canada's space agency struggling to come up with an explanation for what had gone wrong.

Canada's department of Citizenship and Immigration refused to discuss the issue, citing privacy laws. But Ottawa's anti-Russian rhetoric over Moscow's involvement in Ukraine suggests the most likely explanation for one, while China's cyber-spying may be the reason behind the other.

Still, most delegates at the convention agreed that while the absence of the Russian and Chinese delegations was unfortunate, space cooperation would continue despite political problems on Earth.

For the 3,000 delegates who were at the convention, it was more like a party. Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, says the convention was a big deal.

"To have the heads of all the space agencies of the world coming here to talk to the head of our space agency, the Canadian space agency, about high level things like policy [and] everything that has to do with exploring them rest of the universe, the science that goes along, and even space law and some of the lighter sides of exploring what lies beyond our atmosphere," Hadfield said.

Organizers say international cooperation that emerges from this type of conference is one of the keys to growth in space programs and exploration. Some of the highlights discussed include China's landing of a lunar rover on the surface of the moon and India successfully inserting a satellite into orbit around Mars just last month.

On display at the convention was next generation of the Canadarm, Sweden's work with giant arena-sized balloons that can reach 25 miles into the upper stratosphere and a large scale model of Britain's proposed new shuttle craft.

Canada is also contributing to a new space telescope  that could help lead to finding signs of life beyond earth. The $8 billion James Webb space telescope is set for launch in 2018.

WBFO’s comprehensive news coverage extends into Southern Ontario and Dan Karpenchuk is the station’s voice from the north. The award-winning reporter covers binational issues, including economic trends, the environment, tourism and transportation.