On November 13, 1981, after eight years in the planning and construction, the Canadarm first flew aboard STS-2. Officially known as the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System, the RMS was Canada’s contribution to the Space Shuttle Program.
Intended to assist moving materials around from and into the payload bay of a space shuttle, the RMS was designed to mimic the moving joints of a human arm. It had two rotating joints at the “shoulder”, one at the “elbow”, three at the “wrist” and a snare-grapple-prong capable device as the “hand”.
On this day, the RMS on-orbit tests surprised the crew because it was much more flexible in space than it had been during training simulations on Earth. During the life of this first RMS version, the arm was used in many ways. It held, manipulated, and released packages that sampled ionization around the shuttle and studied the plasma tail of the spacecraft as it orbited. It served as a work platform for and during spacewalks and shuttle inspections. On one celebrated adventure, the RMS captured the malfunctioning satellite Solar Max, made repairs to it, and released it once again into its orbit to continue its study of the sun. Thereafter it deployed several satellites from the payload bay into space orbit. It monitored environment contamination around the shuttle. It even assisted creative shuttle crews to perform some unrehearsed “icebusting” to monitor water dumps and to free clogged water waste from the vehicle.
Never needed a sling. Never had an ache or a pain. Never used its emergency feature – a mechanism that would allow the arm to be jettisoned in case it couldn’t fit itself back into the cargo bay. After this original had flown several missions, the RMS would eventually go through four new models before the Space Shuttle Program ended.
B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage