TORONTO - Dr. William Carpentier obviously had the right stuff.
Through a series of serendipitous events as he was training to become a doctor, the Edmonton-born, B.C.-raised Carpentier ended up working at NASA in Houston - and later won the coveted position of crew flight surgeon for the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
Not only did he ensure astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were healthy in the run-up to the July 1969 blast-off, but he greeted them as they emerged from the capsule after splashdown in the Pacific and shared their three-week post-flight quarantine.
Carpentier then joined the astronauts for a 45-day global goodwill tour - ferried on the U.S. president's plane Air Force One - where he met royalty, the pope and heads of state during stops in 24 countries. He even picked up the moniker of WFP, for World Famous Physician.
"It was something for a guy growing up in the middle of Vancouver Island to be able to experience," admits Carpentier, now 73. "I think when I look back that I have lived a charmed life. I've been a very lucky guy."
Raised in Lake Cowichan, B.C., he did much of his medical training at Vancouver General Hospital, but went on to do a post-graduate residency in aviation medicine at Ohio State University. When NASA created an opportunity for third-year residents to study space medicine, Carpentier jumped at the chance.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Ironically, Carpentier was not able to watch the grainy TV images of Armstrong and Aldrin taking humankind's first steps on the lunar surface. He was already in an isolation unit aboard the USS Hornet, the carrier on standby in the Pacific to recover the astronauts after their return to Earth.
"I was in quarantine when they landed, so I was one of the few people who couldn't see them on the moon," he recalled from Pender Island, B.C., where he and his wife now escape the summer heat of their home in Belton, Texas.
During quarantine in Houston - a precaution taken in case the crew had brought back some unknown life form from the moon - Carpentier concentrated on assessing the astronauts' health, especially the effects of space on their blood vessels and hearts.
"There's changes in the cardiovascular system as a result of microgravity because there's redistribution of blood volume and liquid volume throughout the body," explained Carpentier, who wanted to work out whether the condition could be prevented for future missions.
He is reluctant to talk about what the astronauts reported about their life-altering experience. "It's hard for me to explain somebody else's feelings. It's hard enough for me to explain my own feelings about the flight."
"We had a job to do and that was the main concern, that you do your job and you do it well," he said. "But looking back on it, of course it's an incredibly exciting time."
"You only go to the moon for the first time once."