How Canadian researchers are continuing the nation’s 60-year record of excellence in aerospace.
In April 13, 1970, a secretary at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies took a call from Houston, Texas. It was Mission Control at NASA – their spaceship Apollo 13 was in trouble, and they needed some expert help.
“A bunch of our professors were sitting around in a faculty meeting, and they were asked to do some calculations,” says David Zingg, director of the renowned U of T institute, known as UTIAS. The astronauts, of course, made it back to earth safely, partly because of the vital expertise from Toronto. “Later on,” he says, “we got a letter thanking us for our part in the rescue. That’s something that we’re kind of proud of.”
Canada has long been a surprisingly significant player in space research and innovation. “We have punched above our weight when it comes to space efforts,” says Robert Smith, professor of history at the University of Alberta and an expert on the history of space exploration.
The reason for our interest in this area is simple: the country’s enormous geography created a unique set of demands, and Canadians needed this technology to succeed as a nation. “Canada is a vast country, we have many remote communities, and much of our natural resource wealth is in locations that are not easy to reach,” explains Jerzy Komorowski, director general of the National Research Council’s Institute for Aerospace Research in Ottawa. “It’s a very natural industry for us.”