Dr. David Kendall, MSc’72, Phd’79
Distinguished Alumni Award | Lifetime Achievement
Retired Canadian Space Agency senior administrator and United Nations Committee chair; faculty International Space University
Once upon a time, the pinnacle of a career in space was essentially becoming an astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) or NASA. But that tug to actual spaceflight was never what propelled Dr. David Kendall to stare into the inky void and wonder, really wonder, what was out there. Instead, what fascinated him was the Earth’s upper and middle atmosphere and whether it could be studied using a variety of sophisticated instruments and techniques (a.k.a. atmospheric spectroscopy) — precisely the area of research that has sustained Kendall in his stellar career.
“Early on,” he writes in an email from Tuscany where he is holidaying with his wife, Toni. “I saw the significant drawback of being an astronaut which is that one often sacrificed their career for a few days in space (today, the missions are a lot longer) and I was enjoying my career path at the time too much to do that.”
A career that, some would say, has indeed spanned the heavens. For close to four decades, Kendall served with Canadian and international space programs, mostly with the CSA where he was instrumental in shaping our country’s national policy in space science and exploration. Then, in 2016, Kendall was appointed to a two-year term as chair of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) — a position based in Vienna, Austria, that monitors international co-operation in space exploration and promotes space technologies that meet global development needs.
Yet, somehow, this atmospheric physicist was able to juggle the rigours of being an international executive with his other love — that of teaching. For years, he worked closely with the CSA’s space education program and then later at the International Space University where, Kendall directed nine-week programs to more than 100 graduate-level students from more than 30 nations.
Although he may have retired from the CSA and UN COPUOUS, Kendall today remains active in several space-related programs, as well as being the co-supervisor of a PhD student in space policy.
His loyalty to his alma mater has never wavered for UCalgary was where Kendall says he learned “and never forgot” about “teamwork, transparency, responsibility and consensus.
“For me, these are the hallmarks of a leader,” explains Kendall, who cites Elon Musk, Barack Obama and teenaged climate activist Greta Thunberg as people he admires.
He harks back to his student days, “where the university was developing new programs, often in ‘risky’ areas — one of them being space research. Couple the fact that Canada had only recently become a space-faring nation with the excitement and energy directed towards developing a space program that was unique in the world within UCalgary’s Physics Department — well, it was extremely invigorating.”
Besides timing and the critical role that remarkable mentors have played in Kendall’s extraordinary career, the two people who have influenced him most have been his wives — Toni and Betty.
“These two exceptionally talented people are who gave me my grounding, tolerated my stupidities, picked me up when I was falling, guided me at the forks in my career, advised me in decisions, and supported me when issues arose,” he writes. “They are also the mothers of three wonderful children and four amazing stepchildren who are, collectively, far more important to me than any success that my career has brought.”
Who better to ask than Kendall for a few words about the importance of attaining a proper work-life balance?
“Getting this balance is not easy,” he admits. “Finding superiors, bosses, professors, leaders or colleagues who understand this issue and who can advise one in one’s choices is critical. My wives and others who helped give me find this balance are why I have had the successes and fortunes that I have attained.”
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2019 Arch Award Recipients
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Take the ultimate tour of campus with President Ed McCauley, meet the 2019 Arch Award recipients and find out what UCalgary is doing about the coming health-care crisis as our elder population grows. All this and more in the Fall/Winter 2019 Alumni Magazine.