When the world marks the 40th anniversary today of man’s first landing on the moon, it will be paying tribute to American ingenuity and what arguably is one of that country’s finest moments. But it was one of Canada’s proudest moments, too.
Many Canadians are unaware that a group of their countrymen working at NASA was instrumental in delivering the Apollo 11 astronauts to the lunar surface on July 20, 1969 — and getting them safely back home to Earth.
In fact, even before Neil Armstrong’s booted feet stepped onto the rocky, crater-pocked surface of the moon, Canadian-made legs on the lunar landing module settled into the satellite’s dust first. The splayed legs were produced from light-weight aluminum using a compressible honeycomb design by Quebec’s Heroux-DEVTEK, which won the NASA contract.
The landing module was primarily designed by Sarnia-born Owen Maynard, an engineer who worked on the famed Avro Arrow before the federal government under Diefenbaker abruptly cancelled the supersonic jet program in February 1959.
Maynard and about 25 others laid off from Toronto’s A.V. Roe aircraft on what was dubbed Black Friday were quickly snapped up by the Americans to help them fulfill then-president John F. Kennedy’s 1961 edict that the country land a man on the moon within the decade.
“Canadians contributed a massive amount to the space race and Apollo,” says Robert Godwin, a curator for the Canadian Air and Space Museum in Toronto that houses a full-scale replica of the Arrow.
Godwin, who also writes and publishes books on space, said Maynard was among the first — if not the first — to sketch a design for a lunar lander that “ultimately looked very similar to what they actually built.”
Maynard, who died in 2000 at age 75, was promoted to chief of systems engineering for the Apollo program and stayed at NASA until after the Apollo 12 crew completed its moon mission in November 1969.