OTD: Canadarm sees first operational use

On today’s date in 1983, four days into National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) mission STS-7, the first operational use of the Canadarm saw the SPAS-01 (Shuttle Palette Satellite 01) deployed from the cargo bay of the space shuttle Challenger.

Built by Spar Aerospace in Toronto, the original Canadarm (or Shuttle Remote Manipulator System) measured 15.2 metres in length and was capable of accurately maneuvering payloads of 30,000 kilograms in the weightlessness of space. Its weight on Earth was 410 kilograms.

The Canadarm launched Canada’s close partnership with NASA on human space flight and was instrumental in establishing Canada’s reputation for robotics innovation, leading to a new generation of Canadian robotics on the ISS. Its first mission was aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on Nov. 13, 1981. It manoeuvred astronauts, satellites and cargo for more than 30 years before it retired in 2011, when the Space Shuttle program ended.

Altogether, five Canadarms were built and delivered to NASA from 1981-93. One arm was lost in the Challenger accident in 1986.


On April 22, 2001, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield made aerospace history when he became the first Canadian to perform a spacewalk. Using Canadarm, Hadfield installed Canadarm2 on the International Space Station (ISS), which is located about 400 kilometres above the Earth. This next-generation robotic arm was born on the successes of the original Canadarm—the first robotic arm ever built for use in space.

Canada Post President and CEO Deepak Chopra (left) unveils the Canadarm stamp alongside Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen.


In May 2017, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Jeremy Hansen unveiled Canada Post’s third of 10 Canada 150 stamp, this in celebration of the Canadarm.

Hansen visited Toronto’s Glen Ames Senior Public School to unveil the stamp and meet with Grade 7 and 8 students from the school’s robotics club as they prepared to travel to California to compete in an international robotics competition known organized by the First Lego League. Students competing in the inaugural “Animal Allies” contest were tasked 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.

Hansen also addressed the entire school and encouraged the next generation of Canadian innovators to pursue an education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

An official first-day cover was also issued with the Canadarm stamp.

In addition to Hadfield, seven Canadian astronauts have flown in space, participating in 16 missions aboard either a space shuttle or on the ISS—Roberta Bondar, Marc Garneau, Steve MacLean, Julie Payette, Robert Thirsk, Bjarni Tryggvason and Dave Williams.

For more information about Canada Post’s 10-stamp Canada 150 set, visit canadapost.ca/canada150.

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