n March 3, 2013, SpaceX Dragon approached the International Space Station carrying an important shipment of hardware and crew supplies. But, before the one-ton shipment could be unloaded, a team of astronauts needed to capture the unmanned spacecraft while both it and the Space Station were orbiting the Earth at 27,600 kilometres per hour.

From the Cupola, a domed observation deck offering the most breathtaking views from the Space Station, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and his crew had only minutes to manipulate the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) — a 17-metre robotic arm — to snare the Dragon, lift it up, and then hook it into place on a hatch to complete the docking.

"We were one of the original innovators in space and we have an extremely long and proud heritage"

The capture was a success and it wouldn’t have been possible without not one but two sets of Canadian limbs — that of Hadfield and the SSRMS, also known as Canadarm2, a product of cutting-edge Canadian robotics technology.

While Hadfield retired from the Canadian Space Agency in mid-2013, Canadarm2 is still in service. “It’s used pretty much weekly, ever since 2001 when we put it up there,” he explains. Hadfield became the first Canadian to walk in space when he helped install Canadarm2 — the next generation of the original Canadarm, which first flew on the Space Shuttle in 1981. The robotic arm carries equipment, facilitates repairs to the International Space Station, and even moves astronauts in space.

These incredible technological achievements represent Canada’s deep history and influence as world leaders in robotics and aeronautic science. “We were one of the original innovators in space and we have an extremely long and proud heritage,” Hadfield says.

Source: NASA

The Canadarm and Canadarm2 have not only had a profound impact on space exploration but also on the lives of everyday Canadians back on solid ground. “It’s spun off into all sorts of applications on Earth, including the neuroArm that does brain surgery at Foothills Hospital in Calgary,” says Hadfield. The neuroArm’s computer-assisted precision and dexterity helps surgeons make microscopic movements to take biopsies and remove brain tumors. “It uses a lot of the same software algorithms and some of the same hardware,” Hadfield says. “It’s sort of like the granddaughter of Canadarm2.”

Canadian innovations continue to be at the forefront of space research. NASA spacecraft OSIRIS-REx, which launched on Sept. 8, 2016, is currently on a two million-kilometre mission to the asteroid Bennu to collect samples of surface material. Once it reaches Bennu in 2018, NASA teams will use LiDAR, a surveying and imaging method developed by Canadians, to determine the best site for sample collection. “The interpretation of imagery and video in order to build three-dimensional models led to LiDAR, which led to what we’re doing on OSIRIS-REx,” Hadfield explains.

Canadian aeronautic technology and research is thriving and our technologies will continue to play an integral role in collaborative space exploration projects. “When you’re challenged to do something that is right at the edge of imagination and capability, it will bring people together who otherwise would never meet each other,” says Hadfield. “It’s inspirational.”