The Apollo program, which put 12 astronauts on the Moon between July 1969 and December 1972, was the highlight of human exploration of space to date. Since that time, no one has ventured beyond low Earth orbit.
Apollo required the efforts of nearly a half million people, and cost the equivalent of $120 billion in 2000 U.S. currency. The best of America's technical ability was put to work to get Apollo to the Moon, but help came from outside the United States. As is well known, a group of German rocketeers that immigrated to the U.S. after World War II spearheaded the design and construction of the Saturn rockets that powered Apollo.
Canadians also played an important role in Apollo. When the Canadian government cancelled the CF-105 Avro Arrow program in 1959, the U.S. space agency NASA hired 32 engineers from Avro Canada. While many of these engineers came from the United Kingdom, the 12 Canadian engineers in this group went on to play key roles in Apollo and in the earlier Mercury and Gemini programs.
Jim Chamberlin, the leader of the Avro group, made major contributions to the U.S. Moon effort. Chamberlin was head of engineering in the Mercury Program, and then designed the Gemini spacecraft and served as Gemini's first program manager. He also played a key role in deciding how Apollo would go to the Moon, and he served as an engineering troubleshooter for Apollo. Chamberlin was born in Kamloops B.C. and raised in Toronto.
Owen Maynard, a native of Sarnia, Ontario, was head of systems engineering in the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office. Maynard was the first person in NASA to start design work on the lunar module, and as head of systems engineering, he was responsible for integration and coordination of various spacecraft systems. He also drew up the plan of missions leading up to the first lunar landing on Apollo 11.
Bryan Erb played a key role in developing Apollo's heat shield, and his contributions to the U.S. and Canadian space programs continue up to today's International space station. Robert Vale helped design the lunar surface experiments package that the Apollo astronauts set up at their landing sites, and Leonard Packham helped develop communications for Apollo.
Two physicians from Canada, Dr. Owen Coons and Dr. Bill Carpentier, provided medical services for the Apollo astronauts, and Dr. Carpentier carried out the first medical examination on the Apollo 11 crew when they returned to Earth.
Six lunar modules, starting with Apollo 11's Eagle, landed on the Moon using legs that were made by Héroux Machine Parts Ltd. of Longueuil, Québec. These legs were left behind on the Moon with the descent stages of the lunar modules.
The crews of Apollos 15, 16 and 17 came to Canada for geological training before they landed on the Moon. Canadian geologists played important roles in the research done on the lunar samples brought back to Earth by the Apollo astronauts.
These stories are told in Chris Gainor's books Arrows to the Moon and Canada in Space: The People and Stories Behind Canada's Role in the Exploration of Space.
Apollo officially began in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy set a national goal of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" during the 1960s. Unlike many presidential initiatives, Apollo won the support of the U.S. Congress and the American public because of widespread concern that the U.S. was behind the Soviet Union in the space race, then a crucial competition in the Cold War.
By the time Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in 1969, public and political support had faded for a number of reasons. One of them was the perception that the Soviet Union had dropped out of the Moon race long before Apollo 11. This perception was wrong. In the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet state, Russian archives were opened to reveal that a vigorous Soviet Moon program had competed with Apollo. But the N-1 rocket, which was as big as the American Saturn V, failed on all four launch attempts. The Soviets, and U.S. intelligence, kept the existence of the N-1 and the Soviet Moon program secret for more than two decades.
Apollo was created to compete with the Soviets, and not to advance science. But NASA did work to involve scientists in Apollo, and the later Apollo Moon landings were dedicated to science. In the end, Apollo made major contributions to science, but few people know about them.
The initial findings from the lunar rocks and soil brought home by the astronauts puzzled scientists. It seemed that Apollo had raised more questions than it had answered. The existing theories about the origin of the Moon didn't match the findings of Apollo, and it wasn't until 1984 that scientists began to agree about how the Moon was formed. It took another 10 years for that agreement to become known outside scientific circles.
The Moon, it turns out, was created when a Mars-sized object struck the Earth early in its history. This collision was one of many that rocked the Earth and the Moon early in their existence. The lunar samples helped reveal many things about the origins of the Earth and the Moon, and helped convince scientists that impacts have played a major role in the history of the Earth. For example, Apollo's results were one clue in the trail of evidence that led scientists to conclude that the impact of a giant body wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. And now many people are aware that asteroids and comets continue to pose a danger to life on Earth because of the potential of impact.
The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal is the most thorough resource available on Apollo. Here you can find complete transcripts, photos and films from Apollo's six lunar landings. The Contact Light/Project Apollo Archive website is another great source for information about Apollo.
Mark Wade's Encyclopedia Astronautica is the place to go for information on the Soviet Moon program, and is a great source of information on the world's space programs, past and present.
For information on Apollo's legacy to science, check out The Origin of the Moon website.
See Chris Gainor's commentary in The Space Review on lunar exploration.
Return to Chris Gainor's Canadian Spaceflight History web page.
Look up sources on Canadian spaceflight history.
Read more about Chris Gainor and his books To A Distant Day: The Rocket Pioneers, Arrows to the Moon, Canada in Space and Who Killed the Avro Arrow?
Chris Gainor's Canadianspace.ca blog.
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