York’s MacLean takes his first walk in space

York alumnus Steve MacLean successfully completed his first-ever spacewalk on Wednesday, and later told Prime Minister Steven Harper, “The view I had was fantastic.” The 51-year-old astronaut became only the second Canadian, after Chris Hadfield in 2001, to join the elite group of humans who have ventured into the vast soundless vacuum protected only by a spacesuit and a tether. 

MacLean went outdoors with fellow mission specialist Dan Burbank, part of the crew of six who blasted off aboard the space shuttle Atlantis on Saturday and docked with the International Space Station. During the spacewalk, Burbank and MacLean completed the final tasks required for activation of the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint (SARJ). The SARJ is an automobile-sized joint that will allow the station’s solar arrays to turn and point toward the sun. Burbank and MacLean released locks that had held the joint secure during its launch to orbit aboard Atlantis.

As they worked, the spacewalkers overcame several minor problems, including a malfunctioning helmet camera, a broken socket tool, a stubborn bolt and a bolt that came loose from the mechanism designed to hold it captive. The stubborn bolt required the force of both spacewalkers to finally remove it.

Left: Astronauts Steve MacLean (left) and Daniel Burbank participate in the second of three scheduled spacewalks for the space shuttle Atlantis and International Space Station crew members. Burbank and MacLean are moving along the side of one of the station’s trusses.

Burbank and MacLean spent a total of seven hours and 11 minutes outside the station, beginning their spacewalk at 5:05am EDT and completing it at 12:16pm. In addition to the SARJ work, they completed several “get-ahead” tasks during their time outside.

Later, shuttle commander Brent Jett and MacLean answered questions from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and students from Steve MacLean Public School in Ottawa, Ont., College Durocher in Saint Lambert, Que., the Thorndale School in Pierrefonds, Que., and the Sun Youth summer camp located onsite at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Que.

Right: Shuttle commander Brent Jett (left) and Steve MacLean answer questions from Canadian students

Talking with Harper, MacLean contrasted the grandness of space and the stubborn bolt.

“The view I had was fantastic,” he said. “I felt like I was out there on top of the station with the curvature of the earth on one side, totally in blue on one side, totally in black on the other side and being frustrated with this bolt in the middle. That for sure was a personal highlight.”

Full details and updates on the mission and its schedule, as well as NASA TV webcasts, can be seen at NASA’s main shuttle Web page.

MacLean, a member of the York University Alumni Association board, sent an e-mail to York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden early in his mission to describe the view from space (see the Sept. 12 issue of YFile). He documented his pre-launch preparations in a diary published in the Aug. 10 and Aug. 16 issues of YFile. This is MacLean’s second flight into space – his first was in 1992 – and the first space walk for the physicist, who earned a BSc and PhD in physics at York as well as an honorary degree.