News » Whistler

Alpine Club memento to make space flight

Canadian astronaut’s ties to mountains began with father’s 1939 trip to Garibaldi



By Lynn Martel

Toothbrush? Check.

Spacesuit? Check.

Alpine Club of Canada patch? Check.

When Canadian Astronaut Dave Williams boards NASA’s Endeavour Space Shuttle on June 28, he’ll be blasting off into space with a piece of Canada’s mountaineering history.

Like his six colleagues assigned to the STS 118 shuttle mission, Williams was invited to pack 10 mementos from organizations of significance to him. Thinking of his father, an ACC member in the 1930s and early ’40s, Williams requested the ACC send him a patch commemorating the club’s 2006 centennial.

“My father was a member in the 1930s to early ’40s,” Williams said. “I’ve always been an outdoors person, I guess I come by that honestly through my dad. Growing up in Saskatchewan I spent a lot of time as a kid playing in the woods, and as a teenager I was really into cross country and downhill skiing, and canoeing and kayaking.”

Although not an ACC member, Williams, who lives in Houston, Texas with his wife and two children, remembers taking a rock climbing course in Banff in 1974. Mountaineers and astronauts share similar passion, curiosity and the drive to explore, he said.

“One of the things I’m very passionate about is exploration,” Williams said, speaking by phone from Houston’s Johnson Space Center. “The quest for knowledge for astronauts is very much like that of climbers wanting to know what it’s like at the top of a mountain — or the top of the world, like climbing Everest.”

Williams, 53, said he remembers his dad showing him 8 mm film footage of climbing and skiing B.C.’s Mount Garibaldi in 1939 — flying from Vancouver and landing on a lake “in an aircraft that resembled a giant flying boat.”

Williams’s own interest in space flight developed during the 1960s, when he watched television broadcasts as the first manned spacecrafts explored beyond the earth’s orbit.

“It was just after they hired the original seven Mercury astronauts,” Williams said. “Like just about everyone, I watched it on TV, and thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool to go in space?’”

While Canada was the third country to launch an unmanned satellite into space, programs for Canadians to experience space travel didn’t exist.

“As a Canadian kid, I never thought I’d have a chance,” Williams said. “So I figured, if I can’t explore outer space, maybe I should learn how to SCUBA dive so I can explore inner space.”