Doris Jelly, Alouette pioneer and national space exhibit curator

I was contracted by the Canadian  Aeronautics and Space Institute to write this profile of prominent Canadian scientist Doris Jelly, a pioneer in the Alouette satellite program and the curator of the space exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find, but the book called “Canada: 25 Years in Space” by Canadian scientist Doris Jelly is a valuable asset to any researcher seeking the story of this nation’s early involvement in the space age.

Jelly wrote the book when she was curator for the space exhibit at Ottawa’s National Museum of Science and Technology. Initially intended as background for the institute’s space exhibit, about 1500 copies of the book were published in 1988.

The story opens with the launch of the Alouette I satellite in September 1962, which made Canada the third nation in the world to enter space, and ends in 1988 with the Canadian astronaut program.

“In doing the research and collecting the artifacts, it was interesting to hear the pioneers (in the space program) talk about how things started,” Jelly says, commenting on the dedication and creativity of engineers and scientists of the time. “It was a wonderful challenge. They did what they had to do to make things work. There were no rules or precedents.”

With her own involvement in Canada’s early communication satellite programs, Jelly is in a good position to speak of pioneers. The Queens University graduate began her career in 1954 at the Defense Research Telecommunications Establishment, the spot where the first Canadian satellites were built. Her specialty was research in the upper atmosphere relating to telecommunications.

A trip to Canada’s north was a defining minute in the young scientist’s life. Two events, a medical emergency involving an Inuit woman in labour and the crash of an airplane, brought home to her the human cost of having no means of communication in isolated areas.

Jelly continued her research at the Communications Research Centre at Shirleys Bay near Ottawa. She says one of the highlights of her career was her work as the Hermes satellite program co-ordinator. The Hermes technology allowed two-way interaction and was used for exciting new approaches in meeting the needs for social services in Canada.

Jelly was then tapped to become space curator at the museum, where she was challenged to keep the exhibit up to date in the face of current events and exploding developments in the field. In the process, she gathered a collection of artifacts, audio and video interviews and photos that are invaluable to the history of the country.

Retired since 1994, Jelly lives in Ottawa and has just completed a two-year stint as chair of the Friends of the Communications Research Centre, which aims to collect the history of the organization. “I feel fortunate to have worked with people at the forefront of space technology,” she says.

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