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Contributors' Profiles


Roderick C. Tennyson

Roderick C. Tennyson is an east end Toronto boy, born and raised in the Main and Danforth area. He attended the renowned Malvern Collegiate Institute, one of Toronto’s oldest high schools whose alumni include such luminaries as pianist Glen Gould, filmmaker Norman Jewison and opera singer Teresa Stratas

While he excelled in academics, he was also an athlete who played football and was a sprinter. His entry into aeronautics happened more by happenstance than direction; in the lineups then required for university registration, he and some buddies debated what they should take. Tennyson realized he really wasn’t all that keen on working with hordes of people, as a medical degree would require, and so decided that engineering was a better choice.

He completed his undergraduate engineering studies and continued his graduate and doctoral studies at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), writing his Ph.D. thesis on cylindrical shell structures. Much to the astonishment of university overseers, he wrote his thesis without his adviser, who departed midway through Tennyson’s post-graduate studies.

By the time of the Apollo 13 incident, he was a tenured professor at UTIAS. Over the next 10 years, he worked on many NASA research projects.

Appointed UTIAS director

He was appointed chair of the Engineering Science Division of the U. of T. Faculty of Engineering, and in 1985 became director of UTIAS. During his tenure, the institute significantly expanded its research, laboratory and experimental facilities, hosting a number of start-up companies which combined academics, research and business.

He was one of the three Canadian founders of the International Space University (ISU), an international academic organization focused on space research and science, currently headquartered in Strasburg. Tennyson also served on the federal Transportation Safety Board and was one of six scientific advisers to launch the federal Ministry of State for Science and Technology in the 1960s

After completing two terms as UTIAS director, in 1995 Tennyson shifted some of his professional focus to university administration, helping raise $400 million in grants during a five-year stint as head of the university’s Government Research Infrastructure Program for U. of T. researchers and scientists. In 2001, he turned his attention to to fibre optic sensor research and in 2005 to pipeline design and desalination research to end drought across northern Africa.

He has recently launched the Sequester Project, researching climate change and actions which citizens, community groups and schools can take to reduce Canada’s carbon footprint.


On April 13, 1970, an explosion crippled the Apollo 13 spacecraft, threatening to doom its three astronauts to a certain death 200,000 miles from Earth. After several days of intense analysis and feverish activity in the U.S., when the final crunch came the day before the spacecraft had to return to Earth, NASA still needed the answer to one critical mathematical equation in order to bring the crew home safely. Now for the first time, we learn that NASA sought that answer from only one source: the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies. Dr. Roderick Tennyson gives readers a first-person account of how he and his fellow UTIAS aerospace scientists came up with the answer in less than eight hours.

  • 8,603 Words
  • 19 Photos
  • 5 Illustrations

Nondescript building hides UTIAS treasure


Writing from Toronto

When NASA needed an answer to a mathematical equation to save its Apollo 13 astronauts, why did it place all its trust in the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS)? The answer dates back to the late 1940s when the University of Toronto became the first post-secondary educational institution in Canada to establish an aeronautical engineering program. The U. of T. allowed its new faculty to operate with a high degree of autonomy, which fostered an environment of innovation and exceptionally high standards. This, in turn, produced world-class aerospace scientists, a fact that did not go unnoticed by NASA.

[Walking the wing of the legendary Avro Arrow: See July 30, 2014 Notes From The Editor.]