August 22, 2019

Canadian Space Pioneer Passes Away


Bruce Aikenhead, a man whose name may not be entirely familiar to Canadians these days, passed away earlier this month in the town of Salmon Arm, British Columbia.

Aikenhead, an Officer of the Order of Canada, worked on the Avro Arrow, NASA’s Mercury and Gemini space programs, the Canadarm, NASA’s space shuttle and was the first director-general of the Canadian astronaut program, hiring Chris Hadfield, among others.

During his retirement years he volunteered with local schools and community centres, educating young people about both aeronautics and astronautics. One of the organizations Aikenhead collaborated with was the Okanagan Science Centre in Vernon, B.C., where he served as curator of the space and astronomy section. One of its projects was the transcribing of his recollections of his youth and career:

“One of my earliest memories, the view, looking straight up, of the enormous [Graf] Zeppelin as it flew overhead at quite a low altitude and it seemed to be very close. Because I was not quite six years old, it made a very lasting impression. I could see its gondola with many windows and there were faces in most of them, looking down at us. I could see and hear the engines and propellers suspended from the underside and also saw some coloured lights.”

Bruce Alexander Aikenhead, O.C., B.Sc., P.Eng., FBIS, was born on September  22, 1923 and died at the age of 95 on August 5, 2019. A celebration of his life will be held on September 22 at the Salmon Arm Gallery of Art.

Photo credit: Okanagan Science Centre