Astronaut Jeremy Hansen unveils Canadarm stamp to celebrate Canadian achievements in robotics, science and technology.
At approximately 9 a.m. EST, on November 13, 1981, the Canadarm was deployed from the Shuttle Columbia’s cargo bay for the first time. This marvel of Canadian engineering weighed less than 480 kilograms, and could lift more than 30,000 kilograms – the approximate weight of a city bus – using less power than an electric kettle.
“The arm is out and it works beautifully. Its movements are much more flexible than they appeared during training simulations,” astronaut Richard Truly reported to Mission Control. An hour later, as the Shuttle flew over the U.S., the first images were transmitted to the ground: a giant arm bent in an inverted V shape, positioned above the shuttle’s cargo bay, with the Canada wordmark clearly visible on its side.
A story of Canadian innovation to inspire future generations
Arguably Canada’s most famous robotic accomplishment, the first Canadarm was built in 1974 through a collaboration between Spar, CAE, DSMA Atcon and the National Research Council (NRC). The first steps came in 1969, when NASA first saw a robot developed by Canadian firm DSMA Atcon designed to load fuel into nuclear reactors. A proposal for a robotic arm to deploy and retrieve hardware from the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle was drafted shortly after. NASA was keen, and the Government of Canada stepped up by investing $108 million to design, build, and test the first Canadarm.
An important part of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, the robotic arm manoeuvred astronauts, satellites and cargo for more than 30 years before it was retired when the program ended in 2011. Its precise movements and excellent performance helped establish Canada’s international reputation for robotics innovation.
Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen unveiled the Canadarm stamp at a ceremony at Glen Ames Senior Public School in Toronto. Hansen met with grade 7 and 8 students from the school’s robotics club as they prepare to travel to California to compete in an international robotics competition. The competition tasks students to design, build and program a robot made entirely of Lego to solve a real-world problem. The team came up with the PetPortion – a robot that manages a pet’s weight by automatically giving it the proper amount of food based on its weight and level of daily exercise. The team has won awards for the past two years for their robotic creations and hope this year’s design will take first place at the international competition.
The Canadarm stamp is the third in a series of 10 to be issued to mark Canada’s 150th year since Confederation. Each stamp celebrates a significant and unforgettable moment in the life of this country since its centennial in 1967. The remaining stamps will be unveiled individually at cities across the country, the last of them on June 1.
A closer look at technologies Canadarm made possible
The Canadarm launched Canada’s close partnership with NASA on human space flight. Eight Canadian astronauts have flown in space, participating in 16 missions aboard either a space shuttle or on the International Space Station: Roberta Bondar, Marc Garneau, Chris Hadfield, Steve MacLean, Julie Payette, Robert Thirsk, Bjarni Tryggvason and Dave Williams. Currently Canada has two active astronauts: David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen, and two additional astronauts are expected to be announced this summer.
The Canadian Space Agency credits the Canadarm with leading to a new generation of Canadian robotics for applications in space, as well as medical and industrial uses:
- Canadarm2: A 17 metre-long robotic arm used to first assemble the International Space Station (ISS) in space. Developed by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) in Brampton, Ontario, it is regularly used to catch cargo vehicles, move supplies, equipment and astronauts.
- Dextre: The most sophisticated space robot ever built, Dextre performs maintenance and repairs, such as changing batteries and replacing cameras, outside the ISS. It can move on a mobile base or be attached to Canadarm2.
- neuroArm: This robot allows surgeons to use miniaturized tools such as laser scalpels with pinpoint accuracy and perform soft tissue manipulation, needle insertion, suturing and cauterization. A collaboration between MDA and the University of Calgary, it is the world’s first robot capable of performing surgery inside MRI machines. Since 2008, neuroArm has been used in surgical procedures on dozens of patients.
- Industrial applications: The robotic technology used in Canadarm is also used for applications such as servicing nuclear power stations, welding and repairing pipelines on the ocean floor, remote servicing of utility power lines, and cleaning up radioactive and other hazardous wastes.
The Canadarm is an example of what Canadians can achieve with collaboration and innovative thinking. It is landmark technological achievement and will continue to inspire future generations of Canadian scientists and engineers as they develop new technologies that make the world a better, easier and safer place.
Here are the other stamps unveiled so far as part of our Canada 150 program:
Our next launch: May 30, 2017