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 SPACE.com 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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