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Canadarm: The next generation

The Canadarm robot has boosted national pride and showcased Canadian technology for more than two decades. In space, the arm emblazoned with a Canada logo and flag first twitched to life aboard a shuttle in 1981. We look back at the arm grabbing errant satellites, helping fix the Hubble telescope and shaking hands with its robotic cousin, Canadarm2.

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History is made high above the earth today. Chris Hadfield becomes the first Canadian to walk in space. The astronaut's task also makes history -- installing the next generation Canadarm, dubbed Canadarm2. Unlike the shuttle-based original, the new robot will remain on the International Space Station where it will help build the orbiting outpost. Hadfield rides the arm's elbow as it slowly unfolds. The work is like "winding the world's biggest clock."

The day's significance to Canada is duly observed as Hadfield works on the new arm high over Newfoundland. The stirring sound of O Canada sung by Roger Doucet, of Montreal Forum fame, is piped into his helmet. The anthem also plays at Johnson Space Centre in Houston. On the ground, Dave Williams, another Canadian astronaut, says the spacewalk and new arm add up to a phenomenal day for Canada. "We're very proud," he says. 
. The Mobile Servicing System, informally called Canadarm2, is a bigger, more advanced version of the original. It is two metres longer than the 15-metre Canadarm. Its joints are more flexible and it carries four cameras instead of two. Special sensors transmit a sense of touch to the astronaut operating it. Unlike Canadarm, which is fixed to the shuttle at one end, Canadarm2 is designed to move end-over-end, with one end always gripping the space station.

. The 1.6-tonne Canadarm2 is vital to the construction of Alpha. Astronauts use it, along with a Canadian-made work platform on wheels, to move around equipment and supplies. The arm is also helping to dock the 100,000-kg. shuttle. Canadarm2 was designed and built by a private-sector team led by MD Robotics of Brampton, Ont. It cost $600 million to develop and build — about six times the cost of the first Canadarm.

. An initial design for Canadarm2 was sketched out on a restaurant napkin by three engineers from Spar Aerospace Ltd. over a meal in the early 1980s. The trio later designed the new arm for MD Robotics.

. Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean arranged for the playing of O Canada. He didn't realize, however, that it would also echo through mission control. "The front-room controllers spontaneously stood up," he said. "I heard later they were standing in all the backrooms as well. It was pretty amazing." Hadfield recalled: "I was standing at attention, floating beside the shuttle. I even saluted... It was a strong moment for Canada and a proud moment for me."

. "Oh man, what a view. That takes your breath away," were Hadfield's first words as he emerged from the shuttle Endeavour high above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil. He was joined on the seven-hour space walk by Scott Parazynski, an American astronaut. They circled the earth almost five times while connecting wires, removing metre-long bolts from a packing crate and installing a radio antenna.

. NASA was pleased with the spacewalk despite some glitches. The astronauts had trouble tightening expandable bolts that keep the arm — which is so big it had to be folded over twice in the shuttle's cargo bay — permanently extended. After a huge battery-operated screwdriver failed to tighten the bolts properly, they finally had to use the tool to turn the bolts manually. Also, Hadfield had to flush his eyes after temporary tearing marred his vision.
Medium: Television
Program: Sunday Report
Broadcast Date: April 22, 2001
Guest(s): Dave Williams
Host: Alison Smith
Reporter: Kathleen Petty
Duration: 2:36

Last updated: January 27, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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