British Columbia

John Spencer MacDonald, pioneer of Canadian aerospace industry, dies aged 83

John Spencer MacDonald was best known as the co-founder of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, the company that designed the Canadarm mechanism on the International Space Station.

Engineer, whose firm designed Canadarm, described by family as loving husband, gentle father, 'mentor to many'

MacDonald was born in Prince Rupert, B.C., in 1936 and showed an interest in electronics from a young age, repairing marine radios for local fishing boats. (Neil Macdonald)

John Spencer MacDonald, a pioneering figure in Canada's aerospace industry, has died at the age of 83.

MacDonald was best known as the co-founder of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), the company that designed the Canadarm mechanism on the International Space Station.

In an obituary penned by his family, he is described as a loving husband, gentle father, and a "mentor to many." He died on Boxing Day.

MacDonald was born in Prince Rupert, B.C., in 1936 and showed an interest in electronics from a young age, repairing marine radios for local fishing boats.

He went on to pursue science and engineering degrees at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he eventually was appointed to a teaching position.

In 1969, Macdonald co-founded MDA, the Canadian space technology company behind the Canadarm and the Radarsat Earth-observation satellites.

He went on to hold professorships in engineering at UBC and MIT, and served as chancellor of the University of Northern British Columbia from 2010 to 2016.

He was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 1988. 

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Alfredette, as well as his two sons and three grandchildren.

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