Categories: Astronomy

Review: Canadarm and Collaboration by Elizabeth Howell

Think you know everything there is to know about the famous Canadarm, and the story of the Canadian space program? A new book out next month delves deep into the fascinating backstory of the Canadian Space Agency.

The book is Canadarm and Collaboration: How Canada’s Astronauts and Space Robots Explore New Worlds by Elizabeth Howell, out on October 20th, 2020 by ECW Press.

Available for preorder now.

Howell follows Canada’s contributions in space exploration, from the launch of the first Canadian satellite Alouette-1 from Vandenberg AFB in California on September 29th, 1962, to Canada’s contributions to the International Space Station and the future Lunar Gateway, which will orbit the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis initiative.

Elizabeth Howell is a space journalist, and long-time contributor to, Forbes magazine, and here at Universe Today. Howell is also the author of The Search for Life on Mars, on sale now.

The title of the book refers to the famous Canadarm, used aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle, and later aboard the International Space Station. The Arm is one of Canada’s most conspicuous contributions to space exploration. But Canadarm and Collaboration goes far beyond the story of the robotic space arm in its scope. The book explores the roots and history of the Canadian space program, from its inception right up through modern crewed exploration.

Canada was actually the third nation to field a satellite in low-Earth orbit, with the launch of the aforementioned Alouette-1 satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California atop a U.S. Thor DM/Agena-21 rocket in 1962.

Even long-time space buffs will discover new and untold anecdotes from the interviews in the book; one of my favorites was the story of the train that ran through the Vandenberg launch track at random intervals causing the Alouette-1 launch to repeatedly scrub, much like the ‘boat in the box’ dilemma that modern coastal launches must face. The book follows the development of the Canadian space program and its parallels with NASA along with Canada’s contributions to the U.S. Space Shuttle program, right up through the ongoing International Space Station collaboration.

But beyond simply providing a historical perspective on Canada’s role in space exploration, Howell weaves in a keen personal narrative to the book, as her research takes her to some far-flung locales. She journeys to the Baikonur Cosmodrome to witness a Soyuz launch headed to the International Space Station with Canadian astronauts on board, and takes tea with Canada’s Governor General and chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency Julie Payette.

Chasing launches is all part of the space journalism game, and Howell braved legendary sub-zero temperatures to attend a Kazakhstan launch from the historic Baikonur Cosmodrome, joining a select club far from the flocks of journalists that head to the sunny Florida Space Coast. We can attest to the curious fact that often, the most challenging place to cover a launch, is at the launch, as journalists often end up in a remote field—sans smartphone reception or wi-fi—simply staring at a lone rocket, and wondering what the status of the launch really is.

But beyond the missions and launches, Canadarm and Collaboration also covers the political ins and outs of the Canadian space program. This is often the most tortuous path any mission or proposal must navigate, long before a payload reaches the launch pad.

Be sure to read Canadarm and Collaboration (available for pre-order now) for a fascinating look at Canada’s evolving space program and its past, present and possible future.

Lead image credit: Sunrise over the Canadarm, looking back over the Space Shuttle payload bay. Credit: NASA

David Dickinson

David Dickinson is an Earth science teacher, freelance science writer, retired USAF veteran & backyard astronomer. He currently writes and ponders the universe as he travels the world with his wife.

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