MacLean tells York ‘the ride was spectacular’


Above: Shuttle Atlantis, with York alumnus Steve MacLean on board, lifts off from the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center Saturday

“The ride was spectacular.” So wrote York alumnus Steve MacLean in an e-mail from space to York President & Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden, a day after the long-awaited launch of the space shuttle Atlantis crewed by MacLean and five other astronauts. After delays lasting nearly two weeks, Atlantis took off from Kennedy Space Center at 11:15am Saturday into a bright blue Florida sky on its mission to deliver and install the latest component of the International Space Station.

Steve MacLean head to shuttleRight: MacLean (left) waves to onlookers as he and the crew of Atlantis head off to the launch pad Saturday

On his way there, MacLean found time to answer a few e-mail messages, including one from Marsden Sunday congratulating him on his second trip to space. Marsden wrote: “I can’t tell you how excited and proud all of us at York are that you are ‘up there’ once more…. Of course, your work with the arm is what we are all waiting to see and hear about. That will be riveting for the world and certainly exciting for us. You can be sure that we’ll be with you in spirit. In the meantime, I am asked by the students, staff, faculty and governors of York to send you every good wish for your good health and success.” She also told MacLean that TV screens had been set up in the Computer Science & Engineering Building “so the whole community can watch the feed.”

 In his reply, MacLean, a member of the York University Alumni Association board, thanked Marsden and wrote: “The ride was spectacular. We just flew over the Great Lakes, up the St. Lawrence and across Newfoundland. Looking forward to the Great Canadian handshake tomorrow.”

That came Monday, the third day of the flight. With the words, the “great Canadian handshake is complete”, MacLean reported the successful handoff  (below) of a 16-tonne section of the International Space Station containing solar-power arrays. MacLean is the first astronaut from the Canadian Space Agency to operate the International Space Station’s Canadarm 2, which he used to grapple the bulky P3/P4 truss after it was lifted out of Atlantis’ cargo bay. Once delivered, the truss remained parked outside the station, ready for installation today. MacLean will make his first-ever space walk tomorrow to perform additional installations of equipment that will increase the size and power capabilities of the space station.

Gary Jarvis, associate dean in York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies and professor of earth & space science in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, was one of a few members of the York community who managed to be on hand for the launch of Atlantis Sept. 9. Two old friends of MacLean’s from his undergraduate days as a champion gymnast, Robert Robichaud (BA ’77, BSc ’82) and former York gymnastics coach Masaaki Naosaki, also made it back. A larger group had attended pre-liftoff festivities centred on the original launch date of Aug. 27 (see YFile Aug. 31, 2006), but many were unable to return as delays due to weather and technology set in.

As former chair of York’s Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering, Jarvis was invited to view the launch when it was originally scheduled three years ago. He and his wife Hélène were accompanied by their son Michael Jarvis, a York PhD student, and his wife Andrea (BSc ’05 ), who were on their honeymoon. Jarvis writes about his experience of the launch in a special report for today’s YFile (see More News). In it, he remarks on the impressive power of the shuttle’s booster rocket, saying, “Atlantis seemed to jump upwards, passing the top of the launch tower at a speed of 150 km/h.”

Robichaud and Masaaki also watched the launch from the Banana Creek viewing station, dressed in their special gym team t-shirts designed for the occasion, and waving Canadian flags brought by Naosaki. At the launch, Robichaud was hard-pressed to contain his excitement.

Left: Masaaki Naosaki  (left) and Robert Robichaud at Banana Creek viewing area with the shuttle launch pad in the background

“Man we were cheering him on, screaming and cheering and I was videotaping it at the same time,” Robichaud said. “Everyone was holding their breath – the liftoff and flames were incredibly bright – and, once the solid rocket booster separation happened, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.”

Robichaud also got a message through to MacLean after the launch, and got this reply: “Tell the whole gym group that it was fantastic. You experience the whole gamut of human emotions in a very short time when you do this.” MacLean signed it, “From Outer Space – Steve.”

After attending a reception organized by MacLean’s family, Robichaud and his family flew back to Toronto on Sunday. He and the other members of the York gymnastics team, who trained and often lived together in the late 1970s, are looking forward to a reunion with MacLean after his return. “Steve said he really wants to meet with us when he gets back,” Robichaud said.

The shuttle’s 11-day flight is being broadcast by NASA TV and is available on York’s Rogers Cable system and on two large screens set up daily in the lobby of York’s Computer Science & Engineering Building.

MacLean and the rest of the shuttle crew are scheduled to return to Earth Sept. 20, landing at Kennedy Space Center at approximately 5:57am.

For more on the flight of the space shuttle Atlantis, including live television coverage on NASA TV, visit the NASA shuttle Web site.