Above: Space shuttle Atlantis touches down at Kennedy Space Center Thursday with York alumnus Steve MacLean on board
After 12 days, York alumnus Steve MacLean’s much-delayed flight into – and back from – space ended happily Thursday as the space shuttle Atlantis touched down at 6:21am at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“This has been an incredible adventure!” affirmed MacLean, shortly after landing. “Our crew successfully resumed the assembly of the International Space Station and I am proud to have represented Canada in this endeavour. Canadian technology played a key role during this mission, and this flight showcased once again the valuable expertise of Canadians.”
Above: Atlantis crew, including MacLean (third from left) stand on terra firma after a successfull landing
York President & Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden congratulated MacLean in a message following the succesful landing:
“Today is a day of triumph and celebration. On behalf of the entire York University community – our students, alumni, faculty, and staff – I want to congratulate Steve MacLean for his exemplary work as a member of the space shuttle Atlantis crew,” Marsden said. “During this mission into space, his efforts went far beyond that of an astronaut. He is an ambassador for our University, a role model for our country and a hero to everyone who believes in progress, research and discovery. Although Steve’s accomplishments on Atlantis and the International Space Station were closely documented over the past few days, his preparations began many years ago. We are proud that Steve, as an alumnus of York, was able to exercise the full extent of his education and experience in performing what only a very few will ever get to do − represent the best that this world has to offer, while improving the future in this world for all of us. Steve − all of us at York University are so very proud of you.”
After embracing a chance to meet with their families, the STS-115 astronauts finished up their landing day answering questions from the media during a televised news conference. NASA said after a good night’s sleep in the crew quarters at Kennedy Space Center, the astronauts were to return home to the Johnson Space Center in Houston Friday. NASA said the STS-115 mission is quickly being regarded as one of the most complex and productive space missions in history.
Paul Delaney (right), professor of physics & astronomy in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, watched the landing live on television and was impressed. “Like all landings, it was, ‘wow!’, that was amazing,” he said. “but with Steve on board, we were all just that little bit more excited and relieved at a successful landing.”
Ben Quine (left), director of York’s Space Engineering Program, said the mission was a success and showed the Canadian space program in its best light. “I think Canada acquitted itself in the best possible way,” he said. “Steve did a great job and we should all be proud of him.”
MacLean took part in the success of mission STS-115 by operating Canadarm2 almost every day, becoming the first Canadian to operate the International Space Station’s robotic arm in space. He also used the Space Vision System, developed by Neptec of Ottawa, to help install a pair of solar panels on the station. With the addition of these panels, there is now more electricity to run all the station’s systems, including life support, daily operations and scientific equipment.
During this mission, MacLean performed his first spacewalk, becoming the second Canadian to step out into the vacuum of space. In preparation for a safe return, MacLean operated the shuttle’s Canadarm with its Canadian-made boom extension and laser camera as part of the inspection of the surface and tiles of the spacecraft.
With Atlantis and its crew safely home, the stage is set for the next step of International Space Station assembly. Preparations continue for space shuttle Discovery’s launch, targeted for mid-December, on the STS-116 mission to deliver an additional truss segment and a cargo module to the station. Discovery will also do extensive work on the station’s electrical and cooling systems.
“This is a major relief for the people concerned with completing the International Space Station,” Quine said. “It’s the largest piece of space engineering ever attempted and it’s now back on track.”
As excited as everyone was about the flight, there are concerns about Canada’s involvement in future human flight into space. Gordon Shepherd (right), director of York University’s Centre for Research in Earth & Space Science, told the National Post Aug. 28, he is less certain that a Canadian will ever fly to the moon or beyond. He said the fact that the Canadian Space Agency has not recruited any new astronauts for several years is an indication that its manned program is on hold for the time being.
“This is a crucial period for the Canadian astronaut program,” he said. “I think the agency’s concerned about the future and they don’t want to commit too far ahead with new astronauts. They’re getting very nervous about the whole program, I think.”
Delaney said MacLean’s performance on this flight might have persuaded the Canadian government to look at future funding for the Canadian Space Agency’s participation in missions to the Moon and Mars but has his doubts. “I’d like to think it did but the issue’s more one of politics and funding. I don’t know if it will be enough to move political minds,” he said.
Delaney noted that NASA is focused on building the International Space Station by 2010, which puts added constraints on involving other countries’ space programs and who is going to fly. Canada will see another of its astronauts in space in June 2007 when astronaut Dave Williams embarks on mission STS-118 for another assembly mission.
“But we should be thinking beyond shuttle at this point,” Delaney said. “We’ve got the Moon and Mars. I’d hate to see the same thing that happened to the Apollo program happen here. We got to the Moon and it should have been the beginning. Instead it was the ending.”
Delaney also noted that NASA’s plans for testing of its new orbiter aren’t scheduled until 2014 at the earliest, with no flights to the moon until 2018 to 2020. “I’m a bit worried about the commitment. I not sure I can’t wait another 14 years for them to get back to the Moon,” he said.