The First Steps

During Space Shuttle flight STS-100, in April 2001, the Canadian-built Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS), Canadarm2, was unfolded from its protective metal cradle. It gingerly took its first step, climbing out to begin exploring the International Space Station.


Setting it up for that first step required a complex choreography involving the Shuttle's Canadarm and two spacewalking astronauts, including Chris Hadfield, who became the first Canadian to perform a spacewalk.

First, Canadarm was used to lift Canadarm2, still folded inside the metal pallet in which it was launched, out of the Shuttle's cargo bay and attach it to the Space Station Lab, Destiny.

Then Hadfield and American astronaut Scott Parazynski attached a temporary cable to supply electrical power and a computer/video link between Canadarm2 and a workstation inside the station.

Hadfield and Parazynski unbolted the arm from the pallet, manually unfolded its two long booms, and secured the hinges in the middle that allowed the booms to be bent in two.

Next, astronauts inside the station commanded Canadarm2 to reach out with one of its two identical "hands" and grasp a device known as a power data grapple fixture on Destiny.

These fixtures are round, antenna-like devices that provide the robotic arm with power and computer links. Eventually, many of them will be located around the Station's external structure, allowing the arm to walk end-over-end like an inchworm.

Canadarm2 then "stepped out" of its pallet onto the station.

Historic handshake

A few days later, Canadarm2 and Canadarm performed the first robotic "handshake" in space. Canadarm2 moved the pallet over the Shuttle's cargo bay while, inside the Shuttle, Hadfield commanded Canadarm to reach over and grasp it. When Canadarm2 let go, Hadfield placed the pallet in the Shuttle bay for return to Earth.

This is the first operation with two robotic arms ever performed in space. At this point, the system had run through its basic moves and was now ready to start helping build the rest of the station.