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NASA TV: Banned In Canada?

By Stephen Anderson
Special to
posted: 11:15 am ET
20 September 2000

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Proudly emblazoned on the side of the Canadian robotic arm aboard every space shuttle, a red maple leaf makes a bold statement of Canada’s commitment to space exploration and the new International Space Station (ISS).


Watch NASA TV now in our Media Player.

But Canadians won’t be watching much of the historic assembly of the ISS on TV because NASA TV isn’t available north of the border.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), a regulatory body similar to the FCC in the United States, determines what programming is provided to Canadians via satellite and cable TV. So far their stance on allowing NASA TV into the country is negative.

Despite several requests from an assortment of cable-TV providers and pleas from individual Canadians, the CRTC has refused to grant permission for NASA TV to be broadcast.

Canada's space "arm."

So what does the CRTC have against NASA TV?

"It’s really a space crisis," said the CRTC’s Marguerite Vogel.

No not that kind of space -- rather, channel space. It appears there is simply no room left on the dial under traditional analog TV and the CRTC has yet to finalize standards for dealing with foreign signals under the new digital technology.

In addition, under existing CRTC rules a cable or satellite provider must offer a minimum amount of Canadian programming. And that’s where the rules become the problem.

Even if NASA TV ran nothing all day but Canadian Astronaut Marc Garneau talking about the shuttle's famous Canada Arm, it would still be an American-owned-and-operated channel and, as such, classified as foreign.

Between the space crunch and the content rules, something else would have to go before the CRTC could authorize broadcast of another U.S. channel.

It’s unlikely that the majority of cable subscribers would be happy trading in FOX, CNN or ABC for NASA TV, no matter how exciting installing a zero-g toilet aboard ISS might be.

While the general public may be blissfully unaware of the historic events taking place above their heads, there are people who are annoyed with the strict application of the rules in this case.

"Space itself is not a matter of Canadian content. Space is universal," said Raymond Robillard a computer-support person in Montreal. Like many with an interest in events surrounding the space station, he believes the exploration of space is something that unites all people in a common goal.

Told of the ongoing construction project in orbit, Bryan Kirkpatrick, a mechanical-systems designer from Edmonton said, "I didn’t even know this was happening. I’d be interested in watching that. The news only covers this sort of thing when something goes wrong. The CRTC should make an exception."

Just such an exception (on a small scale) is in the works. Aware of the growing grass-roots support for the channel, the CRTC has allowed one cable-TV provider, (Shaw Cable of Alberta) to carry NASA TV. Broadcast was allowed during the recent Atlantis-ISS mission and will be permitted again temporarily during upcoming missions in October and November.

But while most Canadians can't look forward to seeing NASA TV on their television screens anytime soon, they can watch the assembly of the ISS by "tuning in" to the World Wide Web. Interested viewers in Canada and around the world can watch NASA TV via's live video feed over the internet.

Meanwhile those people living in Canada who would like to see NASA TV carried by their local cable or satellite TV provider can make their opinions known on the CRTC website.

Coming Monday -'s coverage of NEAR's attempted landing on Asteroid Eros

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