On the 10th anniversary of the launch to the International Space Station (ISS) on the Space Shuttle Endeavour of Canadarm2, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) President Steve MacLean and veteran astronaut Chris Hadfield reflected and answered questions from the media through a webcast.
Both MacLean and Hadfield recounted stories of their personal experiences 10 years ago including when MacLean, then the Capsule Communicator (Capcom) in mission control Houston, had the Canadian national anthem played when Hadfield and the Endeavour crew had completed the installation of the Canadarm2 (Watch the video to your right).
I had the opportunity to ask three questions. They were:
1. How can Canada build on this heritage? What's the next robotic piece of equipment Canada might fly in the future?
MacLean fielded this question by saying the CSA is working on the next generation Canadarm, surface mobility technology for the moon and Mars and after the work by contractors in these areas is completed by March 2012 the CSA will then do assembly, integration and testing of these technologies. Canada is building on its heritage by pushing the envelope with respect to robotics in space. Hadfield noted that the Canadarm2 and Dextre are used every week on the International Space Station and that while we've learned a lot about using robots on the ISS we're still learning. This includes controlling the robots from the ground which is something that was not really meant to happen. The ISS is an ideal platform to test out new robotic ideas and this is something the CSA and its partners are doing and will continue to do. Canada is building on its expertise in subcomponent technologies as well as vision systems control systems. Companies like MDA and Neptec are some of the companies contracted to work in these areas. Expertise in these technology areas will enable Canada to be well placed for the next big exploration push wherever that may be.
2. Do you think Canada might contribute an arm or robotic technology to one of the future commercial capsules such as Dragon or Blue Origin etc?
While MacLean could not give a yes or no answer to this question he did says there are ongoing discussions at all levels on what's possible and will depend on how those discussions go. Each spacecraft has different needs and the CSA wants to be a part of the discussions to determine whether it's suitable for robotics to be a part of a particular vehicle.
3. What spinoffs has the Canadarm development and technology contributed to the Canadian economy?
MacLean said you had to look at the Canadarm's from a subcomponent point of view when you look at spinoffs and it's there that you see its strengths. Robotics have led to "pushes" as he calls it into the car industry, the nuclear industry and most impressively into the medical industry. The Canadarm2 in particular can be moved with extreme precision and the software behind this has been adopted for robotic surgery with impressive results.
Hadfield said Canada has is the leader in space robotics and other countries come calling to learn how we do it. As well because the Canadarm, Canadarm2 and Dextre are so visible there is the spinoff of inspiring young Canadians to want to be a part of this, to study robotics in school and to someday work in the field.
Another question from another reported was when would Canada be sending its next astronaut in space after Chris Hadfield's mission. Canada's two newest astronauts, Jeremy Hansen and David St-Jacques, are doing well in training but have no flights scheduled. MacLean says he expects they will fly at some point but is unsure when. Canada would have to pay someone for these astronauts to fly to the space station, whether it's the Russians on a Soyuz or a future American capsule currently under development.
Below you can watch the full media Q&A which included a few questions from other reporters.
Other related videos courtesy the Canadian Space Agency: