Canada Revels in Hometown Astronaut's Atlantis Mission

Canada Revels in Hometown Astronaut's Atlantis Mission
Students ask Canadian Space Agency astronaut Steven MacLean questions about his role in NASA's STS-115 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Sept. 14, 2006. (Image credit: Canadian Space Agency.)

HOUSTON - In Canada, Atlantis shuttle astronaut Steven MacLean is no mere STS-115 mission specialist.

He is Steve MacLean : third Canadian in space, second Canadian spacewalker, and the first ever from his nation to wield the robotic Canadarm2 built in Canada for the International Space Station (ISS).

"All of us are very proud of you," Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper told MacLean Thursday during a space-to-ground video link with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). "We followed your spacewalk yesterday and your work with the Canada arm."

MacLean first wielded the space station's Canadarm2 - a critical component to build the ISS - on Monday, just after Atlantis docked at the space station, when he and Expedition 13 flight engineer Jeffrey Williams plucked the new Port 3 (P3) and Port (P4) trusses from the tip the Atlantis' shuttle's own Canadian-built robotic arm.

"There you have it, the Great Canadian Handshake," MacLean said as he used Canadarm2 to grasp the P3/P4 trusses from Atlantis' Canadarm.

The trusses, equipped with new solar arrays, were installed on the station's port side Tuesday, with MacLean and his STS-115 crewmate Daniel Burbank priming them to deploy the new solar panels in a Wednesday spacewalk . The arrays unfolded early Thursday.

"The highlight was out on the EVA, when we were working that bolt that did not want to move," said MacLean, who also answered questions from Canadian schools - including Steven MacLean Public School from his native Ottawa, Ontario. "The view I had was fantastic."

MacLean's spacewalk was his nation's first since Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield helped deliver Canadarm2 to the ISS in April 2001.

"It's huge in Canada," Hadfield told of MacLean's following in their home country, considering how he has grown from a payload specialist to a builder of the ISS. "The change in training, the change in Steve's qualifications and the responsibilities that he has on board from an overall operations point of view, it's a real clear measure of the change in the international space program."

In addition to the Canadarm2, which can be controlled by astronauts aboard the ISS and flight controllers on Earth, the CSA has agreed to provide the Mobile Base and Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator - a two-armed robot nicknamed Dexter - to comprise the Mobile Servicing System that will ride along rails mounted to the space station's main truss.

"We're looking forward to seeing this truss continue to elongate and we're getting ready ourselves to bring the two armed robot that we call Dextre ," said Benoît Marcotte, ISS program director for the CSA. "That will be transiting down that truss in a couple of years down the road to in order to do another step of robotics, which is maintenance of the ISS."

Like the shuttle and ISS robot arms - as well as Atlantis' heat shield-scanning inspection boom - the Mobile Servicing System was built for the CSA by MDA Corp.

"I just want to say a big 'Hello' to Canada," MacLean said Thursday. "It's really a privilege for me to be on this mission because we have so much Canadian hardware here."

Even while MacLean and his spacewalking partner Daniel Burbank worked on that stubborn bolt Wednesday, Canada was still high in his thoughts.

"It was amazing flying over Canada when we were working that bolt," MacLean said after Wednesday's seven-hour, 11-minute spacewalk. "It's been an absolute wonderful experience."

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.