Canada and the moon: Past and future missions

Col. Chris Hadfield describes Canada's contribution to the Apollo 11 mission and talks about future space exploration — including more visits to the moon — by Canada and other nations.

An interview with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield

Buzz Aldrin unpacks a seismic experiment during the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969. Chris Hadfield said such experiments helped reveal that the moon was once part of the Earth. ((NASA))
Col. Chris Hadfield took part in space flights in 1995 and 2001. He was the only Canadian to ever visit the Russian Mir space station and the first Canadian to walk in space. On July 15, as the Endeavour space shuttle prepared to blast off, carrying Julie Payette to join her fellow Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk aboard the International Space Station. While waiting for that event, Hadfield spoke to CBC News about Canada's role in moon exploration since July 20, 1969, when the first humans walked on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission.

You were about 10 years old when the Apollo 11 moonwalk happened?

Almost. I was just a month shy of turning 10, and watched it with great interest and fascination and it profoundly affected my life after that.

Did Canada play any part in making the Apollo 11 mission happen?

The feet of the lunar module - the first feet to actually touch the surface of the moon - were made in Montreal. ((NASA))
Huge. The chief engineer of the lunar lander was from Woodstock [Ontario]. He was born in Sarnia and he lived in Woodstock – a guy named Owen Maynard.

One of our engineers was one of the astronaut trainers, Bruce Aikenhead, who worked with the original Mercury astronauts, some of whom walked on the moon.

The feet of the lunar lander — the very first part of the lunar lander that landed on the moon — were made on the south shore of Montreal. Actually, the first feet on the moon were Canadian [laughs], not Neil Armstrong's …

We were already in space at that time. Canada was the third nation on Earth to have a satellite in space with our Alouette satellite in the early '60s and we led the world ever since in lots of different types of space exploration.

And of course, then with our robotics that followed on immediately after Apollo … we have built the space station using the Canadarms. It all directly follows from those original Canadians that worked on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs and those feet, Canadian hardware that landed on the moon.

Do you have any specific examples of some of the types of technology that was necessary for the moon mission that have been really critical since?

Chris Hadfield places his hand among those of two other astronauts aboard the Soyuz TMA-15 spacecraft. The three formed the backup team for Expedition 20/21, which launched in May 2009. ((NASA/Victor Zelentsov))
Well, gosh, all of it. You just can't invent a rocket out of nothing. Everything you build and then push to its limit, you learn a tremendous amount from.

But to be specific, the ability to fly one space ship and dock with another one was developed for the Apollo program during the Gemini program. In fact, one of the main designers was Buzz Aldrin, who was the second man to walk on the moon. So every time, when Julie and her crew go up and dock with the space station, it is using the same techniques ... developed during Gemini and Apollo.

The engine that we are going to use for the vehicle that comes after the space shuttle ... was an engine that was developed directly from the Saturn 5 rocket. We will still be riding basically a son or granddaughter or whatever of an engine that they were riding during Apollo.

Our understanding of where the moon came from came directly from Apollo.

Can you be more specific about that? You said our understanding of where the moon came from, there was specific evidence from Apollo…

Sure, in order to understand where it came from, it's necessary to understand what the moon is made of. Does it have a solid core, a liquid core, does it have a magnetic field? Did it have an atmosphere? Was it an asteroid that was captured, or how did the moon get to be there?

It wasn't until we landed on the surface and did seismic activity, put things that measure earthquakes (seismometers) into the ground; and pounded the moon either by just hitting it or by crashing a spaceship into it; and listened to the echoes as they come through the moon — that we found out what's inside the moon.

We also brought back so many samples from the moon that we know what the moon is made of. And from those we found that the moon is in fact torn from the Earth from an impact of something about the size of Mars that crashed into the Earth four billion years ago.

Canada was involved in coming up with the Global Exploration Strategy  that aims to send astronauts to the moon a number of  times over the coming decades.

Yes, we're heavily involved with multiple other countries, other spacefaring nations.

Why was that so important?

Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Canadians will certainly go there in the future, astronaut Chris Hadfield said. ((NASA))
Well, almost everything that exists is beyond the Earth … And to truly understand the Earth, you can't just look at the Earth. You have to look at Mars and say: Why does Mars have an atmosphere and polar ice caps and ice underneath the surface, but it no longer has the water that used to flow on the surface? Is that a normal thing to happen to a planet? How can we avoid that happening to the Earth?...

Someday we will live permanently on the moon … We're just limited by technology right now. We haven't yet invented the reliable engines, the simplicity of design, enough concentrated power that makes it simple and therefore cheap and safe enough to regularly go to the moon.

Right now it's at the limits of our capability. But we will make those inventions. Just like aviation 100 years ago or powered ships 200 years ago or sailing ships 400 years ago.

So the idea of going to the moon repeatedly over the next few decades is just to develop that technology mostly, so that we can do it more cheaply and establish colonies on the moon, perhaps?

Well, you can't just sit in a room and figure out how it is that you colonize anywhere. You actually have to go do it. It's easy to conceptualize, but it's very, very difficult to actually do the things and it's only when you actually do them that you recognize the true complexities and that you learn the real lessons and you reap the real benefits. And you have to get it right down to all of the minutiae and find out for sure what works and what doesn't.

Does Canada have any specific plans for Canada's specific contribution to future moon missions?

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette, shown here on the Endeavour space shuttle on July 15, relied on docking technology developed during Apollo to board the International Space Station. ((Reuters/NASA))
There are lots of specific plans, but what you're really asking has the government committed money to it? Have we decided where we're going to spend our federal money and the answer to that is no.

But I think the reasons are logical. Right now, the United States has a new president. He has commissioned a team under Norm Augustine to over a three-month period review what's going on with the American human space program…. They are going to be making recommendations to the U.S. president in about six weeks. And that will really then give marching orders to the new American NASA administrator Charlie Golden as to exactly what NASA is going to do for the next decade, what their plans are, when they're going to go to the moon and how – in what vehicle.

And then that will open the door for Canada to decide what we should do. Once we know for sure what vehicles the Americans are planning to build, what opportunities might exist for other countries like Canada, we can then pile on to all the things we've done in the past — the international co-operations we've had, the Canadarms that we've built, all of those things — we can take that technology and that proven reputation and decide what makes sense for us … What turns us a profit, what is good for our students, what gives our universities opportunities, all of that.

And I think we've done an admirable job in the past. We've had a Canadian researcher, Bob Thirsk, living on the space station right now doing a bunch of Canadian experiments. Julie will be operating Canadarm 1 and Canadarm 2 to help continue building the space station. All of those are just excellent building block examples of the types of things that we could be doing as we join with other nations.

A Timeline of Moon Landings

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