The Canadian robotic arm on one of NASA's space shuttles is heading back north after the shuttles retire, CBC News has learned.

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The space shuttle Canadarms have been used to support astronauts on spacewalks, like this one to service the Hubble telescope in 1993. (NASA)

Each of NASA's three shuttles is equipped with a Canadarm, designed and built in Canada. After the shuttle program ends with the final flight of Atlantis in June, NASA plans to keep the robotic arms on Discovery and Atlantis for itself, but the Canadarm on the Endeavour has been earmarked for Canada.

Canadian science museums are already making the case for why their particular facility is the optimal one for displaying the arm.

The Canadarms on each of the shuttles have been used to set satellites into orbit, retrieve others for repair, support spacewalking astronauts and conduct inspections of the space shuttles.

Shuttle winners

NASA celebrated the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch Tuesday by announcing the museums that will display the shuttles after they retire this summer.

At an event commemorating the first launch of Columbia on April 12, 1981, NASA announced plans for the three shuttles:

  • Atlantis will go on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
  • Endeavour will retire to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Calif.
  • Discovery will head to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.

NASA also announced that Enterprise, the first shuttle prototype built for test flights on Earth, will move from the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.

Tuesday was also the 50th anniversary of the first human space flight, made by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961.

The one on the Endeavour is the very first, deployed in 1981.

Rob Godwin, space curator for the Canadian Air and Space Museum at Downsview Park in Toronto, believes the Canadarm should return to its birthplace.

"It should come home to where it was conceived and designed and built," said Godwin, whose museum is housed in the original home of SPAR Aerospace Ltd., the company that built the Canadarm. "Most of the people who worked on that device are still alive and still live in this area."

SPAR Aerospace was later purchased by Richmond, B.C.-based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates.

Renald Fortier, curator at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, thinks his large facility would be a better fit for the 15.2-metre arm.

"We have to put it somewhere where people would see it and would be able to appreciate the size of it," he said.

Frank Florian, director of public programming for Telus World of Science in Edmonton, believes the arm should travel across the country "just to really, again, showcase science and technology here in Canada."

The Canadian Space Agency has hinted it may keep the arm at its headquarters in St-Hubert, Que., CBC's Paul Hunter reported.