Canada’s Footprint: When Apollo astronauts set foot on the moon, Canada’s future astronauts were watching
When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon at 10:56 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969, hundreds of millions of people were either watching the event on TV or listening on the radio.
That Apollo 11 landing and future Apollo missions to the moon would inspire many young people to see their future in the stars. Among those would be three Canadians who would become household names for their efforts in space and beyond.
And just as spacecraft orbit the earth, life goes full circle. Canadian engineers would be instrumental in the design of the spacecraft the Apollo astronauts would take to the moon. The work of those space pioneers would inspire a new generation of Canadian astronauts.
CANADA’S FOOTPRINT, Part 1: How cigarettes, coffee and Canadian engineers helped put men on the moon
CANADA’S FOOTPRINT, Part 2: How Canada’s loss of the Avro Arrow was NASA’s gain
WATCH BELOW: Chris Hadfield shares his experience about being an astronaut
There isn’t much about the Apollo 11 landing that Chris Hadfield doesn’t remember clearly.
It isn’t simply the excitement of July 20, 1969, that’s etched in his memory. He seems to remember nearly every detail of a night that would set the course of his entire life.
Hadfield was still a month short of his 10th birthday, but he was able to convince his parents to let him stay up late.
They were at the family cottage on Stag Island, south of Sarnia, Ont., and didn’t have a television. Luckily, one of their neighbours did.
“We walked across the grove,” Hadfield says. “There was an opening in the trees to the neighbour’s place. The neighbour was a Spitfire pilot in the Second World War, a guy named Cliff Monk.”
Hadfield says he sat jammed into a sofa against his brother, Dave. The room was packed with kids and adults watching a small black and white TV with rabbit ears and a fuzzy image.
“What was coming through that TV was just incredible,” Hadfield says. “How could this be happening?”
An estimated 530-million people around the world tuned in to watch the moon landing — a record at the time. According to reports, movie theatres in North America were deserted.
“A half a billion people were sitting just like we were, all at the same moment, kind of holding our breath.”
Hadfield says as of that night, his life was set out in front of him. That one moment of human triumph over complexity and adversity affected him to the point he resolved to become an astronaut. Every decision he would take from that moment would be based on one question — what would help him get to space?
“That same little boy, sitting on that sofa in July of 1969, went on to be the first Canadian to walk in space and the first Canadian to command a space ship,” Hadfield says.
WATCH BELOW: Marc Garneau shares his experience of the first moon landing
Marc Garneau was nowhere near a TV on the night of the Apollo 11 moon landing, but he was following it as closely as he could.
At the time, the future astronaut was 20 years old and about to enter the last year of a Bachelor of Science degree at the Royal Military College in Kingson, Ont.
But in the summer of 1969, he was part of a group sailing a 59-foot yawl to Europe.
On the night Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, Garneau was in the English Channel on the way to London.
It was about 3 a.m. local time, and Garneau was able to find coverage being broadcast on radio.
“I was looking at the moon and listening to it,” Garneau says. “It verged on the impossible.”
In 1983, Garneau was selected as one of the first six Canadian astronauts. His first trip to space would come just months later as a payload specialist on Space Shuttle Challenger in October 1983.
Garneau would make two more trips to space. He was a mission specialist on Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1996 and 2000. He was elected to Parliament in 2008 and is currently Canada’s Minister of Transport.
Reflecting on the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, Garneau says humans are still exploring their backyard. The technology doesn’t yet exist to go to other solar systems, but he says it will come.
“I think the most hopeful thing about humanity is that we’re curious. We are drawn outwards as opposed to just looking inwards.”
WATCH BELOW: Julie Payette shares her childhood experiences watching the Apollo missions
Most young girls in North America her age may have had posters of David Cassidy or the Bay City Rollers in their bedroom, but growing up, Julie Payette’s bedroom door had a poster of Apollo 11 and her first idol, Neil Armstrong.
The future Canadian astronaut — and current Governor-General — was too young to remember the Apollo 11 moon landing, but still has vivid memories of the later Apollo missions.
“I saw Apollo 15, 16 and 17 sitting in the gymnasium of my elementary school,” Payette says. “They had TVs on tripods and would roll them in.”
Payette says those missions made an enormous impact on her. Any time she was asked to prepare a project, she would try to do it on something related to astronauts.
There was no question what she wanted to do with her life — she wanted to be like the astronauts she’d watched on TV.
“The fact that they were American and I was Canadian — that they were guys and I was a girl — or that they spoke English, a language I barely understood — was not something I thought about. That’s what I wanted to do.”
Payette was selected to Canada’s second class of astronauts in June 1992. She would make two trips to space; the first on Space Shuttle Discovery in 1999, the second on Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2009.
But both times, Payette says she felt like she was walking in the footsteps of giants.
She says she met Armstrong several times over the years and was always impressed by his humble and easy-going nature.
“We were all impressed,” she says. “We all knew why he was the commander of Apollo 11. He was the best of the best.”
This is part 3 of Canada’s Footprint, a three-part online series on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and Canada’s involvement in it. You can find other stories and videos on the moon landing here on globalnews.ca.
WATCH BELOW: Mike Armstrong discusses his new documentary The Moon Landing and the Maple Leaf
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