Dr. Bill Carpentier, flight surgeon for Apollo 11, is applauded during the opening ceremonies of Lake Cowichan’s 75th anniversary celebrations Aug. 17 at Saywell Park. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

Dr. Bill Carpentier, flight surgeon for Apollo 11, is applauded during the opening ceremonies of Lake Cowichan’s 75th anniversary celebrations Aug. 17 at Saywell Park. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

From Vancouver Island to the Apollo moon-landing team

NASA physician Dr. Bill Carpentier tells his story during 50th anniversary of the moon landing

Before a packed house at the Lake Cowichan recently, local businesswoman Denise Allan introduced her uncle, Dr. Bill Carpentier as “my favourite world-famous physician.”

Carpentier took the stage and took the audience on a fascinating journey.

“This year is the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s flight to the moon. It was an incredibly important event in my life. How did a kid who grew up in a small town on Vancouver Island get to become involved with that incredible adventure?”

RELATED: Chris Hadfield’s iconic photos from outer space to be available to public

Born in Edmonton, Carpentier moved with his family to Lake Cowichan right after the Second World War.

He flirted with flying, considering a career as a military pilot. But he decided on medicine, going to the University of British Columbia in 1957. But history was trailing him.

In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, and, four years later, a space craft with cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on board. These achievements stunned the world. President Kennedy then stepped up to say the U.S. would land a man on the moon and get him back safely.

“Those two events certainly changed my world. The space race was on,” Carpentier told an enthralled audience.

About the time of Gagarin’s flight, Carpentier was looking around for a medical specialty. He discovered an opening at Ohio State University in aviation medicine, joining the program in July 1962. NASA was using military flight surgeons, but since the U.S. congress wanted space exploration to have a peaceful aim, NASA started actively recruiting civilian flight surgeons.

Carpentier was interested but wondered if his being Canadian would mean closed doors for him. But instead those doors opened, as if by magic. At that time, he would have had to return to Canada for two years before applying for a green card.

“But they said: ‘Oh, we can fix that’ and they did. So we went to Houston; it was two months before the first Gemini flight.”

RELATED: How a Kamloops-born man helped put us on the moon

Carpentier was starting from ground level, because not a lot was known about the physical effect of space flight on the human body.

“NASA decided that a physician should be in the helicopter that would pick up the astronauts. It was also decided that that physician should be prepared to jump into the ocean with the navy rescue swimmers in case medical aid was required.”

The doctor who was assigned to that job had a problem: he wasn’t a good swimmer. He backed out. Step forward Dr. Carpentier, who’d spent summers at Lake Cowichan swimming. He also swam at OSU, when he’d been there.

“My boss heard I was a swimmer and asked if I wanted that job. I stated I could hold my own in the water with anyone and I thought it would be a great job to have.”

The physician’s main task was getting an incapacitated astronaut out of a space craft and do CPR “on a pliable life raft in five to six foot seas. I felt that if I couldn’t figure it out, there was no one else who could, and besides, no one else wanted the job.”

Carpentier was eventually assigned to the first lunar mission (Apollo 11).

“On July 16, 50 years ago, Apollo 11 launched. And on July 20, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made a successful landing on the moon. The first part of President Kennedy’s goal was accomplished.”

By July 24, the second part was also successful: they brought the crew safely home.

“It was then that the most important part of my job started. Because of the quarantine requirements…we were taken down to the hangar deck, walked across the deck to the mobile quarantine facility. I closed the door and locked it. No one could get out and nobody could get in.”

They worked for hours getting all the testing and samples done, and then they had a break.

“I mixed martinis, we toasted this incredibly successful flight and that marked the end of the first day.”

The Apollo program allowed them to flesh out what they had learned during the Mercury and Gemini flights. From Mercury to Apollo, data was collected on 34 different astronauts.

“These data have never been fully assembled and some of the data has been difficult to find. My current project is to try to remedy that situation. I am hoping to be able to publish this data together with a preliminary analysis of all three programs.”

RELATED: 1st private moon flight passenger to invite creative guests

Carpentier said he thought the most important legacy of the space program was those photographs of the earth taken from space.

“Stephen Hawking wrote in his last book, ‘When we see the earth from space, we see ourselves as a whole, we see unity and not divisions. It is such a simple image with a compelling message: one planet, one human race.’”

“I feel very fortunate to have been involved in what has been described as the greatest adventure and the greatest peacetime technological achievement of the 20th century. I consider that I was at the right place at the right time. but it was pointed out to me by one of the Apollo astronauts that being in the right place at the right time won’t mean much if you don’t have the right skills.

“As I’ve grown older, I’ve been asked: if you had your life to live over again, what would you do differently. I can honestly say I would do nothing differently. I would have the same life, the same career, I would marry the same woman, I would have the same sons, I would have the same family.

“I’ve also been asked what advice I could pass on to the younger generation. The only advice I would have would be: never pass up an opportunity to learn anything new [and] something I learned from Neil Armstrong: It is never a good idea to take yourself too seriously.”

Just Posted

Steve Mann and Tim Hackett consider Marigold Lands their finest development. (Rendering courtesy Marigold Lands)
Marigold residences grow more townhouses and condos in Central Saanich

50 condos, 14 townhouses up next for project adjacent to Pat Bay Highway

Norman Mogensen sets up strings for his beans in his plot in the Oak Bay community gardens. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)
Oak Bay gardener spends decades cultivating, improving daddy’s beans

85-year-old vegan part of the community gardens scene

Theatre SKAM is offering mobile, pop-up performances to Greater Victoria residents once again this summer. They’ll feature emerging artists Yasmin D’Oshun, Courtney Crawford, Kaelan Bain and Kendra Bidwell (left to right). (Courtesy of Theatre SKAM)
Theatre performances can be ordered to Greater Victoria front yards this summer

Theatre SKAM offering mobile, pop-up performances once again

The Pool at the Esquimalt Rec Centre. (Courtesy of theTownship of Esquimalt/ Facebook)
Esquimalt Rec Centre restarting everyone welcome swim times later this month

The 90-minute sessions will be on select evenings and weekends

Diana Durrand and Arlene Nesbitt celebrate the new artist space in 2014. Gage Gallery moves this summer from Oak Bay to Bastion Square in Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Gage Gallery moving to Bastion Square

Vivid Connections, a showcase by Laura Feeleus and Elizabeth Carefoot, opens new venue June 29

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

Most Read