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article imageOut-of-work Canadian engineers helped get humanity to the moon

By Karen Graham     Jul 20, 2019 in Technology
In 1959 Canadian Prime minister John Diefenbaker canceled the Avro CF-105 Arrow project — a supersonic jet designed and being built in Ontario. Many of the best and brightest aeronautical engineers in the country found themselves out of a job.
The minority Progressive Conservative government of John Diefenbaker made cutting federal spending (and establishing his authority) a political priority - but the cancellation of the project left almost 25,000 people unemployed and became known in Canadian aviation history as “Black Friday” — Feb. 20, 1959.
While the loss of the Avro program was a setback for Canada's aviation industry, it could not have come at a better time. Three weeks after the Avro plant closed, NASA officials flew to Toronto and immediately started hiring engineers.
While all the engineers hired came from the Malton, Ontario plant, not all were Canadian. About half the engineers hired were British, so the space program was realistically an international effort in the end.
Full-sized replica of an Avro Arrow on display at the Canadian Air and Space Museum  Downsview (Toro...
Full-sized replica of an Avro Arrow on display at the Canadian Air and Space Museum, Downsview (Toronto).
Balcer (CC BY-SA 3.0)
NASA would end up hiring about 33 of those out-of-work engineers who joined a small team tasked with managing the American manned spaceflight programs, said Amy Shira Teitel, a Canadian-American spaceflight historian, and author who has worked with NASA on the New Horizons Mission to Pluto.
Getting the space program up and running
Robert Gilruth was the head of NASA’s Space Task Group, which grew into today's Johnson Space Center. It was his job, and a formidable one, to figure out how to land an American on the moon before the Soviets. And, again, history plays a role in the development of the story.
At this time, not too far after WWII had ended, the world was in what has been called the Cold War. There was a lot of saber-rattling between Russia and the United States, both very powerful countries militarily. Russia was ahead of the U.S. in space, after the launch of the world’s first satellite, Sputnik on October 4, 1957.
Sputnik was in orbit for 92 days  making 1 440 circles around Earth  before losing speed and burning...
Sputnik was in orbit for 92 days, making 1,440 circles around Earth, before losing speed and burning up in the atmosphere
HO, NASA/AFP/File
Sputnik wasn't a threat, but it did emit a little beeping sound and that was enough to rattle Americans. Sputnik was actually the reason Congress on July 29, 1958, passed legislation setting up the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
In 1959, the space industry, or as we know it today, the aerospace industry, was still sort of new. The concept of traveling to the moon was in its infancy and many American engineers were reluctant to leave their jobs in aviation or other established industries to work for NASA.
“Gilruth couldn’t find any American engineers who wanted to join NASA, but he knew these Canadian guys were all of a sudden out of a job and he thought they were brilliant and professional and peak guys,” Teitel said during a telephone interview from Los Angeles on Tuesday, according to CTV News Canada.
Vehicle for Lunar Landing Research Facility at Langley Research Center  Hampton  Virginia. This craf...
Vehicle for Lunar Landing Research Facility at Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia. This craft was used for simulation of landing on the Moon. (May 5, 1963).
NASA
In April 1959, the Canadian engineers arrived at Langley Research Center in Virginia to begin their new careers. “It was a significant addition to the brainpower of early NASA when they arrived,” Teitel said.
The best way to get to the moon
Every Canadian hired by NASA has a story to tell, and every one of them contributed to the initial and future projects that led to man first stepping on the lunar surface. In 1959, though, there was a lot of discussion over the best way to get a man to the moon.
Of course, a rocket was needed. Some believed it was a direct trip in a single spacecraft. James Chamberlin, a B.C.-born former top Avro engineer thought differently. He envisioned a two-ship rendezvous in space, with a command module that would orbit the moon and a lander that would head to the moon's surface.
Owen Maynard  centre  with Tom Kelly of Grumman who built the lunar module. (NASA)
Owen Maynard, centre, with Tom Kelly of Grumman who built the lunar module. (NASA)
NASA
"Chamberlain and Owen Maynard were two of the first people with the Space Task Group who saw the value of this idea and started running with it," Teitel explained. Owen Maynard was originally from Sarnia, Ontario. He was a designer on the Arrow project. NASA ultimately chose Chamberlin's two-craft idea and, over the years, Maynard headed the design of the spacecraft.
“Owen Maynard began working on his own little concept for a lunar module, kind of a ‘landing bug’ as he called it, and that actually became the basis of the lunar module that went to the moon,” Teitel explained.
Another Canadian engineer, Bryan Erb, who worked on thermal analysis on the Avro aircraft, used his expertise in designing the heat shield for the Apollo spacecraft’s command module, which protected the astronauts from extreme heat as they traveled through the Earth’s atmosphere on their return home.
Bryan Erb lent that expertise to the development of a heat shield for the Apollo spacecraft’s comm...
Bryan Erb lent that expertise to the development of a heat shield for the Apollo spacecraft’s command module, which protected the astronauts from extreme heat as they travelled through the Earth’s atmosphere on their return home.
NASA
Imagine the worry over whether or not it would even work? Erb was tasked with coming up with a mathematical model to predict how the heat shield would perform. He wouldn't know if it would work until the Apollo 8 mission. "I was very, very happy when the heat shield performed as I had predicted it would,” he told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview on Friday. That same design worked on the Apollo 11 lunar mission.
Erb was to also play a role in the management of a Lunar Receiving Laboratory where astronauts were quarantined and material from the moon was analyzed. Erb remembers being concerned about the lunar rocks that were to be collected.
As he tells it: “I had bought a colored television for the first time and had a number of guests over and we were watching the landing and [Neil] Armstrong and [Buzz] Aldrin got out on the surface of the moon and started jumping around and having a great time playing, and I found myself shouting at the TV ‘Quit jumping around and pick up the damn rocks!’” he said with a laugh.
Looking back on the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, Erb is pleasantly surprised there is still so much interest in the moon landing. “It’s rather gratifying to see that so many people remember it. The public memory is rather short in many ways and they sort of view it as a good time and a good accomplishment,” he said. “I feel very blessed to have had a most interesting and challenging career.”
More about Canadian engineers, Apollo 11, avro arrow, Aviation industry, Black friday
 
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