We need to get back on the moon

Tuesday, July 21, 2009, Michael Purvis, The Sault Star


For Dr. Roberta Bondar, July 20, 1969 felt a lot like "the first day of the future."


"The idea for me was that day I felt the door opening to the future, not just because we had left the planet and set foot on an-other world. I could look up and see the moon and know there were people on it," said Bondar, the celebrated Saultite who was the first Canadian woman and the first neurologist in space.     


"That part was incredible."     


Bondar was 23, and home in Sault Ste. Marie for summer holidays from the University of Western Ontario, where she was doing her masters degree, on the night when Apollo 11 moonwalker Neil Armstrong took the first step on the moon's dusty surface. 


Bondar said she remembers staying up the full two hours to watch the television broadcast.


"My feeling at the time was that here I was being so fortunate being born in an age where you could see this happening live on a camera. And there was my grandmother who used to have her milk delivered by Model Dairy by horse and buggy," recalled Bondar, in a phone interview Monday from the Canadian Air and Space Museum in Toronto.     


Bondar, who in 1992 spent eight days in space aboard the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery, was at the air and space museum to honour the first manned lunar landing, and to pay tribute to Canadian aerospace pioneers who assisted with the Apollo lander and worked on Canada's Avro Arrow.     


"There were all these Canadian connections (to Apollo) and a lot of people don't realize the strengths that Canada had in the past and continues to have in many aspects in the aerospace industry," said Bondar.     


There hasn't been a moon landing since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, but Bondar said she is a proponent of humans returning to the moon and she said permanent laboratories need to be established there, opening up opportunities, perhaps, to mount telescopes on the moon, experiment with different types of construction, or experiment with moon-based solar power. 


"There are lots of things that could be done by getting out of our atmosphere and having a different type of outpost. The space station will not provide it. It's in low-earth orbit. We really do need to do something about the lunar surface," she said.     


"I think there's a lot of potential, and I'd love to go there. I don't think I will in my lifetime, but hopefully we'll have other Canadian astronauts who will and I can do that vicariously," said Bondar.     


The U. S. has announced its intention to return to the moon, having launched the Constellation Program, which also aims to send astronauts to Mars.     


Bondar said the moon is a good step on the way to a Mars mission, but she said there is a danger in another moon mission: that it will be a "one-shot deal again."     


Bondar said she wishes the world, "not just the space-faring nations," will come up with "an overall plan, so that all humankind can benefit, and there's not that total plan yet.     


"I think it should probably be like Antarctica, an international preserve, and people can deal with space law ethics in the UN," said Bondar.     


Bondar, who just returned from a photographic expedition to Yoho National Park, said the moon landing was on her mind the last five days, particularly with two Canadians on the International Space Station.     


"Especially with Julie (Payette)'s flight. She and I have been e-mailing each other. She sent me a note down from space, and Bob Frisk was in the first group of astronauts that I was in," said Bondar.     


"This whole thing, it's kind of like the stars were aligned."     


Bondar noted she was sporting Apollo cufflinks Monday that she bought following the moon landing when on a trip to Florida to visit an aunt who worked at NASA's massive Vehicle Assembly Building, which was originally constructed to build the Apollo and Saturn vehicles.     


"Not that I had a French cuff shirt at that age, but I bought these cufflinks, and I wore them today," said Bondar.     


She said she "felt, from the time I was a little kid that I'd be going into space, I just felt that's what my destiny would be."     


She said the Apollo missions of her youth always seemed to hold more promise than did the space shuttle program.     


"So I always kept that Apollo program in my head and my cufflinks by me, I never let them go, and the way it has turned out has been quite a nice story for me."


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