Thursday, June 08, 2017

Part 13: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History

Spar's Canadarm, George Klein, Ernie Groskopfs and Working Astronauts plus the Mulrony Gov't Divests its Aerospace Assets

Graphic c/o Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
         By Robert Godwin
Canada's aerospace raison d'être has always derived from its immense size, its location in the far north as a vast, barely-tracked wilderness of incalculable resources and the logical requirements relating to defence, communications, utilization and exploration which naturally follow from its size and location.

In April 1981 NASA's space shuttle flew into space for the first time and SPAR's Canadarm was ready for deployment. The team at SPAR had managed to navigate many problematic issues; not least an argument over who should pay what taxes on the equipment as it was shipped across the border into the United States.

The remarkable machine would fly into space aboard the second shuttle mission in November 1981 and would do its first work in space four months later. It had been almost 20 years since the first notions of a Storable Tubular Extendible Member (STEM) derived robotic arm had been suggested at de Havilland.

George Klein in 1980, holding a prototype STEM alongside part of his 1961 patent application for a "coilable extensible apparatus," which outlined how the STEM worked. As outlined in the August 24th, 2014 post, "1970 – “STEM” Space Manipulator Arm – George Klein, Spar Aerospace (Canadian)," the idea for a giant Canadian robot arm, "came first from the Toronto area engineering firm DSMA-Acton, which had been inspired by its work on robotics for the nuclear industry, But it took a consortium of interests and expertise to make it a reality, NRC was the lead, but NASA was convinced to entertain the idea because of Spar's success and track record in the production and delivery of STEM and because of the expertise of firms like RCA Canada Ltd." Photo and graphic c/o

Due to his remarkable aptitude for designing gearing George Klein had been brought back out of retirement by the National Research Council (NRC) and sent into SPAR as Chief Consultant on Gear Design. SPAR and NASA had quickly recognised the inventor's value and his original idea was soon adapted to a multitude of purposes. One of the SPAR engineers, Ernie Groskopfs, who had devised and patented an assortment of new methods for deploying STEMs had also played an integral role in the Canadarm project.

One of the many consequences of Canada's involvement in the space shuttle program was an agreement to fly Canadians into space aboard the orbiting laboratory. While it would always be Americans in the cockpit, there was now an opportunity for scientists and engineers to work on a huge array of new experiments in the mid-deck and aboard the Spacehab (a small pressurized module which fit into the cargo bay) and later the much larger Spacelab. By the end of 1982 it was announced that foreign nationals would soon be flying as mission specialists.

On June 8th 1983 the space shuttle prototype, named Enterprise, flew in the skies above Ottawa on the back of NASA's 747 carrier plane. On the same day it was officially announced that a Canadian would be amongst those chosen to go into space.

The 1983 class of Canadian astronauts. Back row, from left to right: Ken Money, Marc Garneau, Steve MacLean and Bjarni Tryggvason. Front row: Robert Thirsk and Roberta Bondar. Photo c/o CSA.

One of the first to apply was Ken Money, an aviation medicine expert based in Downsview Ontario. Money wanted to conduct a study of space sickness.  On July 14th 1983 advertisements were placed in 38 newspapers across the country inviting applications "from Canadian men and women to fly as astronauts on future Space Shuttle missions."

Candidates were not given much time to think about it; their responses had to be received within three weeks. Evidently this didn't cause any problem, with over 400 people applying in the first seven days.

By the time the application process was closed over 4300 people had applied for one of six possible positions. Ken Money's immediate enthusiasm seems to have worked in his favour, garnering him one of the coveted spots, but then he never made it into space. The other five who would go on to become household names in Canada were Bjarni Tryggvason, Marc Garneau, Roberta Bondar, Steve MacLean and Robert Thirsk.

US space shuttle Challenger landing at Kennedy Shuttle Landing Facility runway 33 on October 13th, 1984 during the STS-41g space shuttle flight. Canadian astronaut Garneau acted as second payload specialist for the flight. STS-41-G was also the third shuttle mission to carry a Canadian built IMAX camera on board. Film footage from the mission appeared in the 1985 IMAX movie "The Dream is Alive."

Garneau would be the first chosen to fly, making his maiden voyage in October of 1984. His first flight couldn't have been better suited to Canadian needs and interests.

Onboard the shuttle STS-41G was the "Office of Space and Terrestrial Applications" payload which was a complex system of earth observation instruments; including a Shuttle imaging radar, a large camera for cartography, an air pollution measuring instrument, and a feature identification and location experiment (FILE) for classification of surface materials. The crew also deployed the Earth radiation budget satellite which measured the amount of heat arriving and leaving planet earth.

If studying the Earth from space had been Canada's raison d'être for a space program, Garneau's flight fit right in. He would remain an active astronaut for another sixteen years, flying again in 1996 and 2000.

The success of the Space shuttle program almost immediately started to cut into Canada's other aerospace projects. Scientists who had been launching Black Brant rockets on suborbital hops into the ionosphere were finding that the money for their research was now elsewhere – aboard orbiting observation satellites.

Churchill rocket range in the early 2000's. Only empty buildings and memories remain. Photo c/o Churchill Polar Bears/ Steve Seldon.

In 1985 the rocket research range at Churchill Falls in Manitoba was mothballed. Over 3500 rockets had streaked into the northern skies during its three decades of operation. It had finally become obvious to everyone in the aerospace sector that the government's interests were still rooted in the most efficient way to communicate with and explore Canada's remote regions. Space now held most of the cards.

Canadian astronauts would conduct experiments from the shuttle's cargo bay and mid-deck, Canadian sensors would be on-board massive multi-million dollar satellites and Canadian communications satellites would be cemented into geosynchronous orbits. Canada would still need aircraft to support these roles, particularly when it came to watching things like pollution, fish stocks, forest fires, pack-ice, uninvited shipping in Canadian territorial waters; and of course they would still be needed for defence.

In 1980 the government had finally settled on the Douglas F-18 fighter as the aircraft which would now patrol Canada's skies. It had nothing like the range of the Voodoo or the Arrow, but satellite surveillance had begun to fill the intelligence void.

As outlined in the August 19th, 1986 New York Times article, "Canadair to Be Sold To Bombardier Inc.," the sale, "was part of the Government's plan to sell state-run corporations that it believes could be better managed in the private sector. In January, the Government sold de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd. to the Boeing Company for $155Mln CDN." Screenshot c/o NYT.

After years of consolidation and government oversight the Mulroney government came into power and by 1986 had set about divesting the government's aerospace assets.

That year, a family owned business that could barely have been more Canadian, having begun its storied history selling snowmobiles, paid $120Mln CDN for Canadair despite the government having poured $1.2Bln CDN into the company, which at that time was the largest corporate loss in Canadian history.

That same year the Mulroney government sold de Havilland/Avro to Boeing for $90Mln CDN, a $65Mln CDN forgivable note and $500Mln CDN in promised Federal loans.

As the decade of the 1990s began, Canada's expansive aircraft manufacturing industry was being distilled down to fewer and fewer companies.
Robert Godwin.

Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books, the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum and an American Astronautical Society History Committee Member.
He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music.  
His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.
Last Week, "The Cape Perry Spaceport, Gordon Shepherd, Hermes, the Battle for the Canadarm and SeaSat,'" in part twelve of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History."

Next Week, "Challengers Destruction, the Hubble Space Telescope, a New HQ for the CSA, Spar Flounders & Orbital Sciences Buys MDA," as part fourteen of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History" continues.

On sale now, at Apogee Books.

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