York alum’s postponed space flight now set for December

The announcement yesterday that NASA’s space shuttle will launch between May 22 and June 3, after a two-year postponement, means Canadian astronaut and York alumnus Steve MacLean (BSc ’77/PhD ’83) can still look forward to returning to space in December.

Steve MacLeanMarc Garneau, head of the Canadian Space Agency, announced earlier this year that MacLean was scheduled to fly as a member of the crew of shuttle mission STS-115, set to launch in December once the shuttles resumed flying after the loss of Columbia in February 2003.

Right: Canadian astronaut and York alumnus Steve MacLean; Below: space shuttle

MacLean and fellow crew members will rendezvous with the International Space Station to complete another phase in its assembly. During the mission, MacLean will become the first space shuttleCanadian to operate the Canadarm2 and its mobile base in space, as crew members add trusses to the station and deploy solar array panels. MacLean will also participate in two of four planned space walks.

A part-time instructor at York in the early ’80s, MacLean has been honoured many times for his work as both an astronaut and laser physicist. He was selected as one of the first six Canadian astronauts in 1983 and flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1992 as a payload specialist. He was chief science adviser for the International Space Station from 1993 to 1994, until he was appointed director general of the Canadian Astronaut Program for two years.

Steve MacLeanThe resumption of space shuttle flights also comes as good news for the student designers of the mission’s two arm patches. The work of students in the York-Sheridan Joint Program in Design, the patches were commissioned by MacLean as part of a design competition and were accepted by NASA. (See story in the Nov. 12, 2002 issue of YFile.)

Left: Steve MacLean at work

The resumption of shuttle flgihts also means an end to the wait by two groups at York whose experiments were to be performed on MacLean’s original mission.

One is designed by Barry Fowler, a professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science. His team’s experiment looks at how hand-eye coordination is affected by conditions in space and its findings could be crucial in long-term mission planning to ensure that space travellers can still pilot their crafts and operate equipment after long periods in weightlessness. Fowler said during a 2002 visit to the Canadian Space Agency in St-Hubert, Que., that MacLean was instrumental in getting the rest of the crew to agree to participate in the study.

The other is a experiment for school children in Grades K-12 called Structures in Space, developed by Tom and Susan Stiff, and Diane Hammond of the York-based  YES I Can! science database project. This experiment, which will be performed by MacLean during the flight, features a live satellite link with the shuttle that will allow students across Canada to perform the experiment in their classrooms at the same time and compare their results with the results MacLean gets in orbit.

MacLean, a former national champion gymnast, was also recently inducted into York’s Sports Hall of Fame. (See story in the April 12 issue of YFile.)

Visit the NASA Web site for more information on space shuttle missions.