The Space Historian, Part II

The Space Historian, Part II

“Do you want to come and meet some astronauts?” Richard Godwin asked his brother Robert. “Sure,” Robert said, and so he flew down to Los Angeles.

Richard was on the board of a couple of big advocacy groups in the US—the National Space Society, and the Space Frontier Foundation, and they had tasked him with organizing the 30th anniversary dinner for Apollo 7.

A Man on the Moon
When Robert stepped into the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel that evening in October 1998, his sister-in-law was standing there with Buzz Aldrin, who of course he recognized right away.

They all sat down for dinner with Walt Cunningham from Apollo 7, his wife Dot, Buzz’s son, and Andrew Chaikin, the author of A Man on the Moon. (The book features a foreword by Tom Hanks, and was later adapted for TV in the mini-series From the Earth to the Moon).

Robert sat there mesmerized as he listened to these people talk until Buzz, who was seated next to him turned to Robert and asked “So what do you do?” Robert said, “I’m a book publisher and a writer.”

“Well you can do me a favour,” Buzz said. And Robert said “Okay!” having absolutely no idea what he was going to be asked to do.

“I have some friends who have an anniversary coming up,” said Buzz. “Could you do a book in time for the Apollo 8 anniversary in December?” Without even thinking about it, Robert said yes.

“That’s what got me started doing space books,” says Robert, and he made a deal that if he got the book done in time that Buzz would introduce him to the crew of Apollo 8.

This gave Rob only 3 days to compile, edit, do the layout and cover, and everything else including choosing a name for his new imprint Apogee Books, and getting it all to the printer. It was to become the first book in his series of award-winning NASA Mission Reports.

“Buzz was good to his word, and that night in Chicago I got to meet Borman, Lovell, and Anders, the first three men to fly around the moon.”

At the end of the evening, Buzz mentioned to Robert that Apollo 9’s anniversary was coming up in March, so Rob published a book for that one too. “And here I am now 20 years and 200 or so space books later and still doing it.”


Robert’s office in Burlington is festooned with space-related artifacts including a scaled-down replica of an Apollo Lunar Module. A vintage reel-to-reel audio recorder sits next to the computer on his desk. And the obligatory bookrack bristles with space books, along with an entire shelf of music books.

Rock and Roll

When he was a teenager, Robert went to a 1975 Led Zeppelin concert in London, which became the catalyst for a life-long obsession with the band and their music.

After studying math and physics at St. Oswald’s College in Shropshire, England, Robert’s first job was electro-plating turbines for Rolls Royce jet engines.

“When I came to Canada I got a job in Hamilton doing the same thing except instead of jet engines I was doing chainsaw engine blocks, so I had some experience in heavy industry before I went back into the family business of hotel management stuff, which lead me down the path to where I am now.”

Robert was headhunted to be district manager for a new chain of English pubs in 1978. By 1981 he had established the most popular nightclub in Canada, The Orient Express. Two years later he was an impresario, managing rock bands, and producing concerts. He also assisted in the recording of several popular albums, working at studios in Munich, LA, and local studios like Metalworks, and Grant Avenue in Hamilton.

From Pubs to Publishing

While teaching hotel management at George Brown College in Toronto, Robert found the time between classes to write his first book The Illustrated Led Zeppelin Collection, which was published by another company in 1984.

Robert decided to publish the second edition himself, founding his company Collector’s Guide Publishing in 1987.

Building on the success of his Led Zeppelin books, Robert started signing up authors, editing and publishing dozens of books on pop culture including music, collectibles and movies, selling in at least 80 countries.

Robert also established the record label Griffin Music along with Richard in 1989. “Griffin music kind of went on a rocket ride and by the mid-1990’s we had offices in 3 countries, a couple of partners, and 140 people working for us,” says Robert. “We were signing up really big names like David Bowie, and Yes, and Motorhead, mostly classic rock stuff, Mike Oldfield, Olivia Newton-John.”

Selling his interest in the label in 1995, Robert went into the merchandising business after acquiring a coveted license from Lucasfilm to manufacture Star Wars memorabilia.

Robert incorporated Collector’s Guide Publishing in 1996, and made it his full-time endeavor. The publishing business was booming, with megastores like Borders, Coles, and Barnes & Noble opening; there was no Amazon yet. “When I got into publishing space books, at that point I had distribution to pretty much every English speaking bookstore in the world.”

The best place to get Robert’s books in Canada today is from his website. “We still have distribution in the UK in most of the bookstores—there aren’t too many bookstores left in the US so Amazon carries our catalog.”

Full-scale CF-105 Avro Arrow Replica, formerly displayed at the Canadian Air & Space Museum is currently in secure storage at Toronto Pearson. Van Hansen photo

Robert is the Space Curator Emeritus for the Canadian Air and Space Museum which has landed a new home at Toronto Pearson, where a new Aero-centre development complex is slated for construction.

Robert has been studying the crossover of spaceflight and pop-culture, and he recently ran an exhibit at Terminal 1 in the Malton Gallery. “It looked at space exploration through a pop-culture lens,” says Robert, “So there were artifacts to tell the story, toys and model kits and Life magazines, and all the way back to HG Wells, and Jules Verne.”

Robert and Richard grew up in the beautiful seaside town of Porthcawl in South Wales. They avidly followed the space program from as early as Robert can remember. “Apollo 8 was my earliest memory, I clearly remember that first flight around the moon,” says Robert. “My brother is older and he remembers Gemini.”

Robert (L) and Richard (R) Godwin build an Apollo model in 1967. Photo courtesy Robert Godwin

On the night of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, ten-year-old Robert was allowed to stay up and watch it with Richard on the small black and white TV in the living room upstairs above his Mom’s pub, The Seahorse.

The boys captured every second of the BBC TV broadcast on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. “I still have a box filled with reel-to-reel tape recordings we made of Apollo when we were kids,” says Robert. The BBC requested some of Robert’s tapes because not much of their original Apollo 11 programme as broadcast exists in the archives.

Robert Godwin lives with his wife in Burlington.

Next Episode is The Community Ambassador

About the Author

Van Hansen

While Van is not allowed to sing, he is allowed to write songs and stories. Mostly stories. Published in magazines such as Canadian Aviator, Canadian Geographic, Costco Connection, Photography Monthly, and The Walrus, Van now shares with you the Profiles and everyday adventures of the People in Your Neighbourhood™, Community Spotlights, plus News & Reviews in the NEW Hansen House Blog! Van is a Certified Executor Advisor, and a Real Estate Broker with the full-service boutique brokerage Apex Results Realty Inc. in Burlington, ON.

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