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Canadarm, the zero-gravity grappler (pictures)

Now a permanent display in the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, the Canadarm played a key role in space shuttle missions, from servicing instruments to checking shuttle integrity.

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Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
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Launching Hubble

On many space shuttle flights over a period of 30 years, the Canadian-built robotic arm named the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS), more widely known as the Canadarm, proved to be a key tool. At 50 feet long and weighing 900 pounds, the six-jointed grappler was a surprisingly nimble instrument that could handle bulky cargo, spacewalking astronauts, and sensitive scientific instruments.

In April 1990, the Canadarm helped launch the Hubble Space Telescope from the cargo bay of Space Shuttle Discovery. The observatory would require corrective optics and several servicing missions to help produce its astounding collection of astronomy images.

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Old and new

In this image from August 2007, the Canadarm and the International Space Station-based Canadarm2 cooperate in unloading cargo from the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
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Distant light

In May 2009, crew on the Space Shuttle Atlantis conducted the fifth and final servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. Earth's horizon is seen in the distance, with light reflecting off the shuttle and the Canadarm.
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Under glass

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield (upper right) called in from the International Space Station to help unveil the Canadarm's new permanent display at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. The arm was in use for 30 years, with five produced for the shuttle fleet, and was finally retired in 2011.

During shuttle mission STS-74 in 1995, Hadfield became the first Canadian Space Agency astronaut to operate the Canadarm.

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End effector

The Canadarm had an end effector that helped move heavy objects around. In the weightlessness of space, the robot boom could move objects that would weigh as much as a fully loaded bus on Earth using hardly any electricity.
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Sky high

In this 2002 photo, the Space Shuttle Columbia's Canadarm moves NASA astronaut John Grunsfeld toward the Hubble Space Telescope during a servicing mission.
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Quick fix

Fixed to the Canadarm, NASA astronaut Steven Smith grapples with the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph, which was removed from the Hubble Space Telescope during the STS-82 mission of 1997. The instrument was replaced by the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS).
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Spacewalking

The Canadarm helps NASA astronaut Michael Massimino on his way to Space Shuttle Columbia's cargo bay during STS-109, the orbiter's last full mission before the Columbia disaster of 2003.
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Hubble on the horizon

This 2002 image shows Canadarm helping NASA astronaut Michael Massimino with the Hubble Space Telescope, dramatically framed by Earth's curve.
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Dangling

As part of the Return to Flight program following the 2003 Columbia disaster, shuttles were equipped with a 50-foot boom called the Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS), which was deployed by Canadarm to check for damage to shuttle heat shields.

In this 2007 photo, astronaut Scott Parazynski (right) dangles from the OBSS while Space Shuttle Discovery was docked with the International Space Station. Parazynski made repairs to the station's P6 solar array.

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Canadarm's successor

Based on the International Space Station, the 55-foot Canadarm2 is the successor to the Canadarm. It has seven joints and can move end over end, like an inchworm, across the surface of the ISS wherever there are grapple fixtures.

Apart from helping build the station, Canadarm2 grabs resupply craft, unloads cargo, and serves as a work platform for astronauts such as Stephen Robinson, seen here during the STS-114 mission of the Space Shuttle Discovery to the ISS in 2005.

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