Gittens, who was on staff at Concordia while she was a student, is at
the front on the left. Above her are Ian Gaither, Elaine P. Greenberg
(former Canadarm course leader) and Michael Delaney. On the right are
(starting from back row) Denise Quildon, Marie-Hélène
Lambert, Sharon OConnor, Peter Coirazza, Chris Chisamore, Roxane
Power Marin and Eunyoung Lee. Another Concordia Ed Tech grad is Heather
Fink, now a technical writer in the Radarsat (satellite) division.
Photo by Jean-François
by Marie Valla
When astronaut Chris Hadfield goes on a space walk in about a week to
deploy Canadarm 2 at the International Space Station (ISS), back on earth,
every one of his moves will be closely followed by a few Concordia Educational
After having been here for four years and telling everybody how
its going to work, were actually going to see it in action,
said Marie-Hélène Lambert.
She has been working at the Canadian Space Agency in St. Hubert as an
Instructional System Designer (IDS) for the past four years, though she
graduated hoping to produce childrens television programs. She is
one of 11 ISDs who design and develop the course material that astronauts
and mission controllers use during space missions.
On a quick coffee break in the cafeteria of the CSA, Lambert and her colleagues
Maureen Gittens and Sharon OConnor all look exhausted. Theyve
put up with 12-hour days and working on weekends to get everything ready
for the Canadarm 2, also known less colloquially as the Space Station
Remote Manipulator System.
Their work doesnt stop there. Not only will they monitor Canadarm
2, but starting this week, theyll train the team who will oversee
the installation of the Mobile Base System, the second of three components
delivered by Canada to the ISS in February 2002.
Recruited by the firm Tecsult-Eduplus, these educational specialists are
hired to work on contract for the CSA. ISDs gather and compile data provided
by CSA engineers, NASA, and MDR-Advanced Robotics, the manufacturer of
Canadarm 2. It includes includes classroom presentationslessons
plans, graphics, animation and simulator activities.
None of them have a scientific background. It takes a long time,
when you dont have scientific training, for your brain to adjust
to engineering concepts, said Lambert. But here, you learn
something new every day.
It is quite unusual for people working in the field of educational
technology to have to learn the subject matter of the lessons to quite
the extent that we do, Gittens said, but here, it is essential,
and it can take up to a year. This means intimate knowledge of the
materialsthe arms electrical and mechanical components, the
principles of robotics, and the software controlling the arm.
The ISDs offices are next to a life-sized model of Canadarm 2. It
is a 17.6-metre-long robot that will be used to assemble the ISS. But
unlike the first-generation Canadarm, which is attached at one end, the
Canadarm 2 is not is not permanently fixed at either end; in fact, either
end can become a base, or shoulder.
When folded in two, it looks a bit like a giant pair of legs. Its seven
joints allow it to walk around the space station as it performs its operations.
Astronaut Hadfield, who is acting as the shuttle co-pilot, will unfold
the arm and hook up power cables. Once in orbit, Canadarm 2 will stay
there. Any further maintenance work will take place in the weightless
environment of space.
These operations require a great deal of care because Canadarm 2 is a
very complex robot. This is why the CSA offers a two-week intensive Canadarm
2 course to astronauts and to the mission controllers who will plan their
missions. The course teaches how to operate the arm, capture and release
payloads, and walk around the space station.
There are no windows on the ISS. Vision is provided by four cameras placed
on Canadarm 2. The main challenge is to learn how to manipulate the arm
from a two-dimensional screen in a three-dimensional space without colliding
with any of the other modules that form the ISS. Its like
driving a car without windows just by looking in the rear-view and side-view
mirrors, Maureen Gittens explained on a tour of the models.
The training development began with Elaine Greenberg. Since the actual
training program started in 1998, 25 astronauts, 32 mission controllers
and 22 mission planners have completed the course. Many of them regularly
come back for updates.
The course is a mix of Web-based lessons, formal classes and practical
exercises. At the end, each student sits at a space-flight simulator and
goes through a series of scenarios involving every step from powering
up and operating the cameras and using hand controls to manoeuvring (or
flying) the Canadarm 2.
Learners are provided with one-on-one training and are given as
much time as they need to master their performance on the simulator,
In the training facility, a simulation of the Canadarm 2 slowly starts
moving down on the computer screen. A couple of engineers review all of
the procedures to ensure accuracy. The thick handout theyre flipping
through lists the manoeuvres the astronauts will be performing and will
be sent up in a book or be available electronically on station.
What happens if something doesnt work properly? There are contingencies
and procedures for pre-identified failures, explained Gittens, who designed
the Canadarm 2 Malfunctions and Troubleshooting lesson.
We teach them how to respond to malfunctions by recognizing, responding,
selecting the right procedure, and determining the failed component and
how to resolve the problem.
A willingness to learn, a penchant for details, and team spirit are what
are requird to be an ISD for CSA. Being responsible for the end product
puts you under a lot of pressure.
Sharon OConnor concluded, There are times when we feel overwhelmed
and exhausted, especially before a course is given to a new group of astronauts
or mission controllers. We wonder if it is worth the stress, but when
we think of the uniqueness of the job and the fact that we are contributing
to a historical event it keeps us going.