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The International Space Station is one of the most important creations in human history. Through the cooperation of many nations, the space station stands as a symbol of what humanity could accomplish.
That accomplishment may not have been able to happen without a very important piece to the construction process. That piece is the Canadarm.
Known also as the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System, the Canadarm has become an iconic symbol of Canadian ingenuity, and the amazing things we can all accomplish.
In 1969, during the early years of development for the Space Shuttle program, Canada was invited by NASA to be a participant in the program. With a manipulator system identified as an important component of the program, NASA awarded the manipulator contract to Spar Aerospace, a Canadian company.
Over the course of the 1970s, the manipulator was developed through several trials and variations. Frank Mee would be credited with creating the End Effector of the manipulator, which was modeled on the opening and closing of a camera’s iris. This design was favoured over the use of a claw-like mechanism at the end of the arm.
On Feb. 11, 1981, an acceptance ceremony was held for NASA at Spar’s RMS Division in Toronto. It was there, Larkin Kerwin, who would become the first president of the Canadian Space Agency, would coin the word Canadarm.
The first remote manipulator would be delivered to NASA in April of 1981. A total of five arms would be built, arms 201, 202, 301, 302 and 303. In 1986, arm 302 would be destroyed in the Challenger disaster.
The Canadarm was no slouch in space, able to do a variety of tasks from making repairs, assisting with space walks and launching satellites. The arm is capable of deploying and grabbing items weighing over 700 pounds in space.
When it was decided to begin making the International Space Station, the arm was upgraded and redesigned so it could handle over 7,000 pound sin space.
Measuring 50 feet long and 15 inches wide, with six degrees of freedom, it weighs in at 900 pounds.
Over the course of its service with the Space Shuttle program, the Canadarm flew 90 missions and completed a large multitude of tasks.
The Canadarm was officially retired on the 90th and final shuttle mission in July of 2011. Today, the Canadarm from the Space Shuttle Discovery is at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Endevour’s Canadarm is on display at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.
Currently, Canadarm2 is in operation on the International Space Station and serves as a more advanced version of the original. It was launched in April 2001 and is 58 feet long and weighs over 4,000 pounds.
On Nov. 13, 2012, Google Canada honoured the Canadarm with a display of a doodle of it on its home search page to honour its 31st anniversary of being in space.