Skip to main content
RBC
July 20th, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of humankind's first steps on the moon. But did you know… the first feet to touch the moon's surface were actually Canadian?

The first legs on the moon weren’t Neil Armstrong’s. They were the lunar module’s landing legs manufactured by Héroux Machine Parts of Quebec. This is just one of the many significant Canadian contributions to the 1969 lunar landing that visitors to the Ontario Science Centre this summer will likely find both amazing and surprising.

Summer of Space at the Ontario Science Centre

The Ontario Science Centre celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing as part of its Summer of Space. And they’re shining a light on the remarkable contributions made by Canadian engineers toward the moon landing on July 20th with LANDER: From Avro to Apollo — a film that illuminates a relatively unknown chapter of Canadian history.

If you want to accomplish anything in this world, you need to start with a critical mass of Canadian talent.

Ross Maynard, son of Owen Maynard – Canadian engineer and Chief of Missions Operations at NASA during the Apollo program

A Spotlight on Owen Maynard – Chief of Systems Engineering at NASA

In 1959, Owen Maynard was one of dozens of Canadian engineers who were recruited by NASA, following the cancellation of Canada’s Avro Arrow program. This Canadian contingent brought education, training and real-world experience from their time working on the Arrow, which was a technical masterpiece at the forefront of aviation engineering at the time.

I'm sitting in front of a LEGO model of a Saturn rocket. I can point to any part of it, and tie my father or another Canadian to its construction.

Ross Maynard

While many Canadians played a role in advancing NASA’s lofty goals of space exploration, Maynard’s contribution is one that stands out.

As part of the recovery team of the Mercury-Atlas 1 capsule from the sea floor, Maynard performed a 30-foot free dive to recover one particular missing piece to figure out what had gone wrong — and fixed it. He went on to head the Systems Engineering Division for the Apollo spacecraft program. He sketched early designs of the main Apollo command module and is credited as the person at NASA most responsible for the lunar lander’s design. As Chief of the Mission Operations Division, Maynard was responsible for planning the sequence of missions that led to Apollo 11 and played an important role in figuring out the safest way for humans to reach and land on the moon.

So why isn’t he a household name?

Telling the Untold Story – for Canadians, by Canadians

The Canadian contribution to NASA’s space exploration programs has been a relatively understated story. But directors Shelley Ayres and Mark Foerster have stepped up to highlight it, through their documentary short film LANDER: From Avro to Apollo, which premieres at the Ontario Science Centre on July 20th to commemorate the historic anniversary.

Originally conceived as a 3-minute feature, LANDER: From Avro to Apollo evolved into something much larger once Ayres began searching for stories and digging into the history of the Canadian influence at NASA. She found a number of Canadian connections and became specifically interested in Maynard’s story. The artifacts and stories held by his son Ross in particular fuelled the fire to build a bigger story, and highlight the inception, design and inventiveness of the Apollo program – and Maynard’s role in it.

“When I reached out to others about Owen, I was really amazed at the number of people he had touched, who were willing to talk about his influence in the program.”

When asked why this story hasn’t been a bigger part of Canadian history, Ayres cited two reasons. “In part it’s due to the geography of the accomplishment – many Canadians stayed in Houston, where they built careers in the industry. There was also a sense of ‘we didn’t do this’,” Ayres explains. “There was a giant team working on achieving the goal John F. Kennedy set forth in 1961, and the Canadians remained humble about their role in history.”

For Ross Maynard, the anniversary of the landing — and Ayres’ probing Canada’s role in it — has meant revisiting his family’s unique history for the first time in 30 years, which has been admittedly a nostalgic, emotional and exhausting journey.

“My father was a very likeable guy. All these people are going to have a blast seeing the artifacts and watching the documentary. My family and I – there will be 12 of us from Canada and the U.S. – are just going to have fun. And Shelley is going to make it all goosebump worthy.”

Celebrating the Landing at the Ontario Science Centre

On July 20th — the anniversary of the Moon landing — the Science Centre is holding a full-day celebration packed with astronaut appearances, special speakers, space-themed engineering challenges and much more. And throughout the Summer of Space, visitors can take part in a number of exciting interactive experiences. At the Astronaut Exhibition, they can learn about G-force by climbing into a centrifuge; they can get to know some of the leading women in aerospace at the Women in Space exhibition, which highlights women’s distinct role in space exploration over time; curious minds can make a working model of the Canadarm, explore Apollo 11 artifacts and see the night sky through a First Nations lens with Wilfrid Buck, who uses star stories and hands-on activities to demonstrate First Nations contributions to astronomy.

And they can watch a unique piece of Canadian history in LANDER: From Avro to Apollo.

“We have a post-it note on my wall in the studio that says ‘Wow, isn’t that cool.’ As long as every minute someone is saying that, then we’ve done a good job,” Ayres relates, when asked about their goals in making LANDER: From Avro to Apollo.

Given the remarkable and surprising Canadian stories that have been waiting to be told since July 20th, 1969, it’s a goal sure to be met.

Feed Your Passion for Discovery

Meet an astronaut, train like an astronaut, or simply observe the wonder of the night sky with a telescope. There’s no shortage of space-related activities for the whole family at the Ontario Science Centre this summer.

RBC clients can celebrate the Summer of Space and receive 30% off general admission ticket(s) when they pay using an eligible RBC card online.

RBC clients can celebrate the Summer of Space and receive 30% off general admission ticket(s) when they pay using an eligible RBC card online.

Simply sign into RBC Offers and click on the Ontario Science Centre banner. (*Offer excludes IMAX® films, special exhibitions, and parking fees).

Go on! Uncover an exciting past, and explore an unlimited potential for the future this summer.

More from the OSC 50: