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Canada and the International Space Station (ISS)

Canada's contributions and challenges with the International Space Station

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International Space Station (ISS)

International Space Station (ISS)

NASA Handout via Getty Images

Dateline: 12/31/12

About the International Space Station

An international partnership of space agencies from the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada both provides and operates the components of the ISS. Canada has announced its participation in the International Space Station program until 2020.

The ISS is an orbiting research lab. It circles about 370 km (230 miles) above Earth, about once every hour and a half, at a speed of 28,000 km/h. Starting in 1998, the ISS has been built in a modular fashion.

As well as the 37 U.S. space shuttle missions to the ISS, the last of which was in July 2011, there has been a wide variety of other space vehicles delivering supplies, construction components, and astronauts to the ISS over the years. As of July 2012, as well as the space shuttles there had been 81 Russian vehicles, one U.S. commercial vehicle, three European and three Japanese vehicles arrive at the ISS.

Since November 2000 at least two astronauts have been on board the ISS at all times. It now hosts a rotating full-time crew of six. About the size of a football field, the ISS now has more living space than a five-bedroom house. It ISS has two bathrooms, a gym and even a 360-degree bay window.

Canadian Robotics

The Mobile Servicing System (MSS) is a sophisticated suite of Canadian robotics that has been used for assembly of the ISS.

Its main components are:

  • Canadarm2: Canadarm2, officially called the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS), is a 17-metre robotic arm with seven motorized joints. It has no fixed end, so can move end over end to reach where it's needed, and move supplies, equipment and astronauts.

  • Dextre: Officially called the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), Dextre is considered the handyman of the ISS. This robot can operate as a hand on the end of Canadarm2 and since it has two arms itself it can handle finer manipulations and maintenance (like changing batteries) than the large Canadarm2.

  • Mobile Base System: The Mobile Base System is a movable work platform and storage facility that can carry Canadarm2 and other equipment on rails along the ISS. It can also be used by astronauts during spacewalks.

Human Achievement

The International Space Station is not just a marvel of science and technology. It is also a wonder of human cooperation. The planning, coordinating and management of the activities of so many facets of five space agencies from different parts of the world, and the cultural, linguistic and political differences that go with them is complex and dfficult at the highest level, but is just as difficult at the most immediate level when you consider the tight quarters and high expectations involved, and that the crews are larger and are now spending longer durations on the station.

In his pre-flight interview before Expedition 20/21 on which Bob Thirsk was the first Canadian on a long-duration flight, he compared it to being a little like having your in-laws stay for the holidays. There are line-ups for phone, computer and bathroom and even the meals have to be tightly coordinated. To get an idea of some of the things that have to be considered, and scheduled, and coordinated, check the Canadian Space Agency feature on Living in Space to get some understanding of how many things have to be considered just to do ordinary things, like eat, sleep or exercise.

Milestones for Canada and the ISS

1999
Julie Payette was the first Canadian astronaut to go to the ISS. She was the first Canadian to participate in an ISS assembly mission and to board the ISS.

2001
Chris Hadfield installed Canadarm2 on the ISS and was the first Canadian to walk in space.

2001
The Mobile Servicing System was in-service, on-orbit for assembly of the ISS.

2008
Dextre was installed to assist in construction and maintenance of the ISS.

2009
Bob Thirsk was the first Canadian to stay for a long-duration mission on the ISS.

2013
Chris Hadfield took over as ISS Commander during the second half of Expedition 34/35.

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