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A long-time federal public servant who previously managed billions of dollars in planned military equipment purchases has been tapped to become the Canadian Space Agency’s first permanent female president.

Lisa Campbell takes over at a time when countries around the world are racing for the stars.

“What we’re seeing with space exploration is that space funding by government and the private sector has grown exponentially recently,” Campbell told The Canadian Press on Thursday. “And I note it that it has continued through the pandemic.”

Campbell succeeds Sylvain Laporte as president of the space agency, a position he has held since 2015.

While she spent the past three years at Veterans Affairs Canada, it was her previous experience overseeing dozens of military procurement projects at Public Services and Procurement Canada that was being touted by Industry Minister Navdeep Bains.

“Lisa Campbell has worked tirelessly in the service of Canadians throughout her career, and has the experience and abilities to move the agency forward on future explorations,” Bains said in a statement.

“Her experience in defence procurement will hold her in good stead as she takes over some of the most important procurements for the space sector.”

The cornerstone of the agency’s plan is a $1.9-billion project announced by the Liberals in March 2019 for the development over the next two decades of a new artificially intelligent robotics system for a U.S.-led plan to build a lunar space station.

The “Lunar Gateway” is meant to make repeated visits to the moon more practical and to host science experiments of its own.

While Campbell also highlighted her previous experience managing projects through Ottawa’s troubled procurement system, she spoke at length about using government investments and industry knowledge for Canada’s economic gain.

“We have strengths in key areas that are going to be very important in what is a new generation of space exploration,” she said, noting many of the companies that make military equipment are also involved in space.

“We want to grow and strengthen our national relationships so the Canadian Space Agency and Canadian industry can be part of what is a significant new investment around the world.”

At the same time, she said Canada – and Canadian companies – need to protect their valuable intellectual property from foreign governments and companies since, when it comes to space, “everyone wants a piece of this.”

“I thought that when I did defence procurement: We need to pay close attention to it and wield it for the very valuable property that it is,” she said.

“If you invest in the research and development to create something very special and sought-after, then keeping some stake in that going forward helps you leverage that investment for future benefit.”

As for being the first woman to lead the Canadian Space Agency since it was formed in 1989, Campbell offered a half-joking answer: “It’s about time, isn’t it?”

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