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US space shuttle Endeavour astronaut Canadian Chris Hadfield peers in a shuttle window, 22 April 2001, after successfully setting up the Canada Arm 2 on the Destiny module of the International Space Station during first spacewalk.


"Oh man, what a view!"

High above Earth, his torso emerging from the airlock of his spacecraft, Chris Hadfield could see Brazil recede below him, making way for the rich, white-speckled cobalt of the Atlantic as the shuttle Endeavour zoomed through space at 28,000 kilometres an hour.

Since he lifted off Thursday, Colonel Hadfield had witnessed 45 sunrises in orbit, but none as memorable as the moment he began his space walk, about 7:50 a.m. EDT on Sunday.

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Seven hours and 10 minutes later, a Maple Leaf flag visible on the left arm of his space suit, he returned inside, ending the first space walk ever by a Canadian astronaut.

Col. Hadfield also left behind him a lasting legacy, having begun the installation of a Canadian-made robot arm on the side of the International Space Station.

Canada now has a lasting presence in humankind's first permanent outpost in space.

As much as the Canadian-designed arms on the space shuttles, the new Canadarm2, bigger and even more sophisticated, symbolizes the country's know-how.

Col. Hadfield's mission was one of the most crucial for the future of the space station and certainly Canada's highest-profile mission.

"This is a great source of pride for this country," former astronaut Marc Garneau said as he watched the space walk.

Despite stinging eyes and unhelpful bolts, Col. Hadfield, working with U.S. astronaut and fellow space walker Scott Parazynski, completed all assigned tasks.

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"You're doing a fantastic job," ground control said as the astronauts bobbed next to Canadarm2, wrestling with the bolts that held it folded up like a giant insect.

By the end of the afternoon, Canadarm2 was able to rise out of its cradle on its own power.

The space station cannot be completed without the innovative new robot arm, which is self-propelled, swinging itself around with its two hands.

This morning, Canadarm2's first task will be to climb out of its cradle and grapple on to an anchor point a few metres away.

As the shuttle passed Newfoundland, Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean called from the ground with a tribute to those who worked on the arm. "Chris, I think you'll like this," he added, playing a rendition of O Canada performed by the late Roger Doucet at a Montreal Canadiens game.

During his outing, Col. Hadfield punctuated his communications with numerous expressions of awe.

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"Scott, when I was a little kid wanting to grow up to be an astronaut, this is what I wanted to do," he told Dr. Parazynski.

"Where are we coming across now?" Col. Hadfield asked at another moment.

"The coast of Africa."

"Wow. Wow. Beautiful green valleys down there, eh?"

Below them, the Earth spun by, crossing distances such as Chile to the Sahara Desert in 30 minutes.

Initially, the space walkers were ahead of schedule, which came in handy when they ran into a snag.

Wielding pistol-grip power tools, they were trying to bolt together segments of the arm, which had arrived folded in two. However, the bolts kept popping out.

The two had to resort to old-fashioned manual force, grabbing their power tools with two hands and twisting them around the bolts.

At one point, Col. Hadfield said his eyes were burning, forcing him to work with them half-closed. The National Aeronatutics and Space Administration said it might be due to sweat or the coating used to keep his visor from fogging up.

Toward the end of the day, Col. Hadfield was rewarded with an even more spectacular sight, an aurora australis - the southern hemisphere's equivalent of Northern Lights - that glowed for thousands of kilometres as the shuttle orbited over southwestern Australia.

"The whole horizon is lit up green!" the normally unflappable astronaut called out.

Col. Hadfield and Dr. Parazynski have another space walk tomorrow to rewire Canadarm2 to configure it to stay in space permanently.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More


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