National Treasure #73: Canadarm

Continuing with the theme of Canada’s contribution to space exploration, today’s entry is the Canadarm, deployed in 1981.

The $110-million Canadarm development program was largely carried out by Canadian industry, under the direction of the National Research Council of Canada. The industrial team, led by Spar Aerospace Ltd., included CAE Electronics Ltd. and DSMA Atcon Ltd. (The Space Robotics Division of Spar Aerospace was acquired by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. in 1999.) The Canadarm was signed over to NASA in February 1981, at Spar’s Toronto plant, where it was built. After being carefully trucked to the Kennedy Space Center, it was integrated into the space shuttle Columbia in June. – The Canadian Encyclopedia

Part of its charm is its name.  I mean, who ever heard of the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS)?  

Canadarm in Space Shuttle Atlantis, on display at Kennedy Space Center

Canadarm in Space Shuttle Atlantis, on display at Kennedy Space Center

Display on the Canadarm, Kennedy Space Center

Display on the Canadarm, Kennedy Space Center

The Canadarm could be thought of as a 15-metre human arm with a wrist, elbow and shoulder. Each of these three joints included a “joint one-degree-of-freedom” (JOD). A JOD was a motor-driven gearbox that allowed the Canadarm to bend and turn with more flexibility than even a human arm.

And for those who like specifications:

  • Length – 15 metres
  • Weight – 410 kg
  • Cost – $110 million (original design/development contract)
  • Years in service – 30
  • Number of missions – 90

Just as space shuttles have given way to the International Space Station, so too have things moved on from the Canadarm:

  • Canadarm2 (aka the Space Station Remote Manipulator System [SSRMS])
  • Dextre (short for Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator)

And for any contrarians in our midst, here’s a list of five Canadian space innovations that aren’t the Canadarm.

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