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Luciano Galasso on Canada and NASA

As I was catching up on my daily news I came across an article about the first moon landing. As the 40 year anniversary of that first lunar landing has just passed it has recently been receiving a lot of attention. I won’t lie to you, I haven’t really paid a lot of attention to the articles. It’s not that I don’t think its a big deal or anything, but I’ve been learning about the landing since I started school as a small child. Then I read this article about Canada’s involvement, something that they didn’t teach me in school surprisingly. I think it’s safe to say without the Canadians mentioned in the article, the USA would not have had their famous lunar landing. That being said, it’s also great to read about positive stories in the news media. Stories like these make me proud to be Canadian.  Anyways, enough on my end, here’s the story:

Dakshana Bascaramurty

Last updated on Tuesday, Jul. 21, 2009 03:11AM EDT

Forty years ago, 17-year-old Ross Maynard tuned the TV in his Houston home to the event of the century: astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bouncing across the moon’s cratered surface.

His father, Owen, stumbled into the living room during this landmark broadcast in a blue bathrobe, still groggy from his slumber.

The elder Mr. Maynard briefly glanced at the flickering screen with disinterest, and then shuffled to the kitchen table for breakfast.

It’s not the reaction one would expect from one of the top managers of the Apollo space program – the man who designed the lunar module “Eagle” that astronaut Buzz Aldrin piloted.

But Sarnia, Ont., native Owen Maynard was never one to make a fuss about his career achievements. And in turn, his name and the names of many other Canadians who worked at NASA for the Apollo program have been reduced to footnotes at best in the history of the moon landing.

Space exploration historian Chris Gainor published a book about the Canadian contributions in 2001.

“Did they get as much recognition as they should have? I don’t think so,” he said. “And in a few years they’re all going to be gone.”

Because the space race was an element of the Cold War, putting a man on the moon was a triumph the U.S. wanted to claim exclusively for itself, said Robert Godwin, space curator at the Canadian Air and Space Museum.

Canadian astronaut Dave Williams

The astronaut describes what the Apollo 11 moon landing meant to him as a teen watching it on a black-and-white TV (The Canadian Press)

During the early days of the U.S. space program, a team of engineers north of the American border – including Mr. Maynard – were at work on the design and construction of the Avro Arrow, a sophisticated interceptor jet fighter. When the federal government axed the program in 1959, Robert Gilruth, a pioneer of the American space program who later became the director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, flew to Toronto the next day. By the day’s end, he had hired 25 men to join him in Virginia. Seven more from the Canadian company joined his team soon after.

After Mr. Maynard transplanted his family to Virginia (and later to Houston), there was little time to adjust. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced the goal to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade. The pressure was on.

Mr. Maynard, with a decade of jet engineering experience under his belt, was hired as chief of systems engineering.

“He was probably the first person to put pen to paper for NASA for what a lunar module should look like,” Mr. Godwin said.

The younger Mr. Maynard remembers his father and his fellow Canadians working 12- to 18-hour days, six days a week. On Sunday, they worked 10 hours.

“All those guys were totally consumed by this mission,” he said. And the work environment was stressful.

After a fire killed three astronauts in Apollo 1 in 1967, an exhausted Mr. Maynard told his supervisors he’d stay with NASA for two more lunar landing attempts.

“His body was telling him ‘This is gonna kill ya,’ ” his son said.

The elder Mr. Maynard died in 2000. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Toronto in 1996 but will receive national recognition for his work Monday when he is posthumously given the Canadian Air and Space Pioneer Award. It will have been 40 years since the moment when two men emerged from Mr. Maynard’s lunar module “Eagle” – a moment when he was most concerned about what he’d have for breakfast.

– Luciano Galasso