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Canada’s long and prestigious history in space exploration began in 1839, when Sir Edward Sabine became the first to determine that the world wide occurrence of magnetic disturbances, were impacted by the strength and frequency of sunspots.
In the last century, Canada’s technical expertise in telecommunications and robotics, has impacted numerous national and international space programs. Aloutte 1, Canada’s first satellite, built to study the ionosphere, was launched by NASA in 1959. Ten years later, the Eagle, Apollo 11's lunar module, landed safely on the Sea of Tranquility, cushioned by landing gear built by Heroux Aerospace of Longueuil, Quebec.
Three years later, on November 9th, 1972, the launch of Anik 1, or ‘little brother’ in Inuit, distinguished Canada as the first country to have a domestic communications satellite in geostationary orbit.
Canadian and American collaboration in space endeavors continued to strengthen, resulting in numerous joint efforts. Voyager 2 was launched, by NASA, on August 20th, 1977. The interplanetary probe, chartered to reach Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, was fitted with a Canadian designed boom, carrying telemetry instruments for its long data gathering journey.
The now renowned Canadarm, or Shuttle Remote Manipulator System, first tested in 1981 by the crew of the space shuttle Columbia, took $100 million to develop. Although the first Canadarm was donated to NASA by the Canadian government, four more robotic arms were purchased by the United States, from Spar Aerospace Limited of Brampton, Ontario, for subsequent shuttle missions.
NASA was so overwhelmingly pleased with the Canadarm’s performance, that on September 29th, 1982, they invited a Canadian citizen to join one of their shuttle missions.
Six Canadian astronauts were selected to undertake the training, with finalist Marc Garneau becoming the first Canadian in space on October 1984. From 1984 to 1999, eight Canadian astronauts have taken part in shuttle missions: Marc Garneau (1984), Roberta Bondar (1992), Chris Hadfield (1995), Marc Garneau (1996), Bob Thirsk (1996), Bjarni Tryggvason (1997), Dave Williams (1998), Julie Payette (1999). The Canadian astronauts responsibilities ranged from undertaking experiments in space, to performing Payload Specialist duties, to controlling the Canadarm during payload release and repair missions.
Currently, Canada is actively participating in the International Space Station program, along with American, Japanese, European and Russian (USSR) space agencies. To date Canada has provided the first and second generation Mobile Servicing System (MSS) to help build and service the space station, a furnace (QUELD2 - Queens University Experiment in Liquid-metal Diffusion), for MIR, the Russian orbital complex, and the Microgravity Isolation Mount.
In addition to the efforts supporting the international space station program, Canada continues to excel in communication and earth observation satellites through its RADARSAT projects. On September 14, 1997, RADARSAT-1 took the first high resolution satellite images of the South Pole.
Canadian space exploration has now spanned three centuries. Given their noted successes, it is without a doubt that the Canadian Space Agency will continue to chart space milestones through its communication satellites, observatory satellites, and space station missions.