After three-year delay, MacLean is ready to fly in space again

Like an Olympic athlete who’s spent countless hours training in the shadows, York alumnus Steve MacLean (BSc ’77, PhD ’83, DSc (Hon.) ’93) is ready to step into the world’s spotlight as he becomes the latest Canadian to venture into space, wrote The Toronto Sun Aug. 25. Twenty-three years after joining Canada’s astronaut program, the 51-year-old Ottawa native will soon board the space shuttle Atlantis for a 12-day mission. [NASA has postponed the launch due to concern about a major storm in the area.]

It’s a long way from the homemade telescope MacLean’s grandfather gave him and his siblings more than 40 years ago. MacLean’s first venture into space was delayed five years until 1992 after the shuttle Challenger blew up in 1986. The current mission was postponed three years after Columbia was destroyed upon re-entry in 2003. “This is the second time in his career that he’s had a [long] delay, but they’re just anxious to get going,” said MacLean’s brother Tim, who will join his family at Cape Canaveral for the launch.

Astronauts can take a small number of personal items with them on the mission. MacLean’s include:

    • Dried apple and seed from York University, MacLean’s alma mater. The fruit is a descendent of the apple that fell and inspired Sir Isaac Newton’s ideas on gravity.
    • A small piece of rock from the summit of Mount Everest, courtesy of Canadian climber Bernard Voyer.
    • The flag of the Third Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, as a tribute to the soldiers who have died in Afghanistan and the troops currently serving there.

  • Biographical details on MacLean were also distributed to media by Canadian Press Aug. 24, including details of his studies at York University.

  • Six Houston astronauts breezed into Kennedy Space Center on Thursday on spiffy little NASA training jets, Canada’s Steve MacLean among them, ready for the launch of a long-overdue and high-pressure shuttle mission, reported CanWest News Service Aug. 25. Nobody has done any construction work on the International Space Station since 2002, leaving the $100-billion space laboratory half built. It’s been orbiting for eight years. Now, with the remaining shuttles due to retire in 2010, they have to start flying the world’s most specialized (and expensive) construction crews again. Fast. NASA says this particular mission is one of the most complex in history.

“It’s been six years since our payload has been at Kennedy (Space Center) here. It’s been four years since Atlantis has been in preparation, and 41/2 years” of crew training, MacLean told reporters on the runway. The former member of Canada’s national gymnastics team (1977-1978) said walking to the launch pad “will be much like walking into an Olympic Stadium for your athletic event. Many countries will be participating in a spirit of cooperation and our families and our friends will be in the front seats.” Stick around and watch the excitement, he said. “I promise you we’ll bring home the gold medal.”

The space station desperately needs this work and 14 more construction missions after it, to do its job. It was conceived as a lab for three astronauts and about four regular scientists, yet has never had a scientist aboard. Too little room, too little power. The first scientists are due to fly in 2009 – a decade after construction began.

That all depends on the shuttles, “at least in terms of getting it built. At least for the larger pieces, the shuttle is the only thing that can get the material up there,” said Gordon Shepherd, director of York’s Centre for Research in Earth & Space Science, and distinguished research professor emeritus of space science at York. “I think the reason is that they’re looking more carefully than they used to. It’s a fundamental design pushed right at the forefront, so you’re right on the margin all the time, and any little problem and you’re over the margin. And of course the more it happens (damage), then the more carefully they look. And the more they look, the more they find things.”

Pluto flap shows people care about space, says Delaney

The decision by the tall foreheads in Prague to strip Pluto of its status as a planet reverberated across cyberspace like a solar storm, reported The Gazette (Montreal) Aug. 25. York University Professor Paul Delaney said the firestorm over the decision was expected. “The moment you start tinkering with decisions and history you are going to polarize the community,” he said.

“There is a lot of passion out there – it has been a bone fide planet for 70 years. It shows you that the public is actually very interested in all things astronomical. The public had grown up with the planet Pluto and that had to be taken into consideration. This wasn’t just a laboratory exercise – we as scientists have to be a little sensitive as to the public’s perception as to what we are about.” Delaney said Pluto is still a planet, but not in the classical sense. “The debate is not over but I think we are only going to tinker from this point…is Pluto a classical planet or not? That debate is done, I think we are past that.”

  • Delaney also spoke about Pluto on radio and televisions across Canada including CTV NewsNet Aug. 24.

TTC should speed subway car deal

Toronto must consider its image in the rest of the province [in its decision to purchase new subway cars], wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 25. Taxpayers from Windsor to Wawa have watched their money go to support the TTC. In its most recent budget, the Liberal government allocated $670 million to expand the Spadina line out to York University and beyond. In light of that backing, it would seem churlish for Toronto to have its subway cars built in China while skilled people in Thunder Bay who have built good cars in the past are left unemployed.

Lions brothers compete in beach volleyball tourney

Nineteen teams, with a total of 38 players, from Oakville, Georgetown, Waterdown, Ancaster and Stoney Creek will compete at the national beach volleyball tournament this weekend at Ashbridges Bay in Toronto, reported the Hamilton Spectator Aug. 25. There is a distinctive family flavour this year. Ancaster is represented by the Podstawka boys – Paul, Adam and Tom. Paul and Adam play for York University, while Tom is a standout at Ancaster High School.

On air

  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about mergers involving Canadian corporations on CBC Radio (Sudbury) Aug 24.
  • Greg Sorbara, Ontario finance minister, spoke about funding for the extension of the Spadina subway to York University and Vaughan, on CBC Radio’s “Here and Now” program Aug. 24.