COLUMN: Remarkable Sarnia man designed Apollo 11 Lunar Lander

Sarnia’s Owen Maynard, shown in his office at NASA with a model of the Lunar Lander. The Lander’s legs were made in Montreal, so the first “feet” to touch the moon were actually Canadian. Photo courtesy Shelley Ayres

In September of 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke of America’s determination to visit the moon.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things,” he told a crowd at Rice University in Texas, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…”

But it took more than U.S. energy and skill to put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon 50 years ago. Canadians were also heavily involved; and especially Sarnia-born aeronautical engineer Owen Maynard. .

“Tranquility Base, here. The Eagle has landed,” Armstrong announced to the world after reaching the lunar surface. Sarnia’s Owen Maynard was truly one of the fathers of the Eagle, as Apollo 11’s chief of system engineering.

Born in Sarnia in October of 1924, Maynard joined the RCAF in 1942 to train as a Mosquito pilot, serving in England during the war. He later studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Toronto and became senior stress engineer at A.V. Roe Company, an aircraft manufacturer located on the site of today’s Pearson Airport.

Canada had a vibrant aerospace industry in the 1950s and Maynard was one of the brilliant engineers who designed the doomed Avro Arrow, which was intended to be the greatest space age, twin-engine fighter interceptor ever built. When the CF-105 project was tragically and inexplicably cancelled in 1959, the NASA Space Task Group scooped up about 30 of Canada’s best and brightest space engineers – including Owen Maynard.

Maynard’s worked at NASA on both the Mercury and Apollo manned space programs. By 1963, he was chief of the “LEM” (Lunar Excursion Module) engineering office in the Apollo Program Office in HoustonTexas. In short, he became the engineer most responsible for the design of the lunar lander.

With this the 50th anniversary year of the moon shot, this famous Son of Sarnia is the focus of a new film. The Shelley Ayres documentary, “Lander: from Avro to Apollo,” tells Maynard’s story in a 30-minute feature running from July 20 to Labour Day at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto.

The film can also be seen at the Discovery Centre in Halifax and Science North in Sudbury.

Ross Maynard, Owen’s only son, said his father loved Sarnia and had fond memories of his boyhood here; swimming and scuba diving in Lake Huron and playing hockey in Point Edward.

He last visited the city in 1998, two years before his death in 2000.