York grad Steve MacLean appointed head of the Canadian Space Agency

One of the first Canadian astronauts and the second Canadian to walk in space, laser physicist Steve MacLean (BSc Hons ’77, PhD ’83) can now add president of the Canadian Space Agency to his list of achievements.

MacLean was named president Sept. 2 by federal Industry Minister Jim Prentice, who referred to him as a "modern hero" respected by academic, industrial and international partners. The appointment was also greeted warmly at York, with which MacLean has maintained close ties for a quarter-century. He has frequently expressed his pride in the University and its top-notch programs and research in space sciences. 

MacLean met with media yesterday to convey his excitement at becoming CSA president and to outline his commitment to Canada’s space exploration and development.

"This is an exciting time for the space agency," MacLean said. "Some would say there are challenges ahead for the space agency, but I would say there are opportunities."

Right: Steve MacLean

Before taking over from Guy Bujold as president of the CSA, MacLean was chief astronaut, responsible for coordinating astronaut activities and selecting new ones, and was the Canadian voting member on the Multi-Crew Operational Panel for the International Space Station, which is responsible for selecting crews and crew operations on the station.

MacLean, who taught at York for three years until 1983 when he was chosen by the CSA to be one of the first six Canadian astronauts, has had a versatile career. He has worked in sports administration and public relations and he competed with the Canadian National Gymnastics Team in the 1970s. As a laser physicist, MacLean’s research has included work on electro-optics, laser-induced fluorescence of particles and crystals, and multi-photon laser spectroscopy. His training as an astronaut began in 1984.

From 1987 to 1993, MacLean was the program manager for the Advanced Space Vision System (ASVS), a computer-based camera system designed to provide guidance data that enhances the control of both Canadarm and Canadarm2, and the Laser Camera System (LCS). Both systems are still in operation on the shuttles and the International Space Station. From 1988 to 1991 he also assumed the role of astronaut advisor to the Strategic Technologies in Automation and Robotics (STEAR) program.

Left: Steve MacLean goes outside during the Space Shuttle Atlantis mission

In 1992, MacLean flew aboard space shuttle Columbia as a payload specialist performing a set of seven experiments known as CANEX-2, including an evaluation of the Space Vision System. He was director general of the Canadian Astronaut Program for two years starting in 1994 and was responsible for six major projects that flew on shuttle and space station missions.

MacLean began mission specialist training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in 1996, followed by advanced training. During that time he also worked in NASA’s Astronaut Office Robotics Branch.

MacLean’s second journey in space came in 2006 when he served as mission specialist on the space shuttle Atlantis. He made his first space walk and became the first Canadian to operate Canadarm2 in space when the crew installed trusses and deployed solar array panels on the International Space Station.

MacLean’s current ties to York include his membership on the York University Alumni Association board and his participation in the 50 to the Power of 50 alumni group supporting York’s fundraising campaign. He frequently visits the campus, and during his Atlantis mission he twice e-mailed then president Lorna R. Marsden from space with special messages to the York community. His account of his space walk in the February 2007 issue of YorkU magazine recently won a silver award for Best Article from the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education.