Dextre and Being in the Critical Path

Dextre in action. Credit: NASA.

Few will remember that on April 8, 1997, twenty years ago tomorrow, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced Canada would be contributing the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator, then called the “Canada Hand”, now known as Dextre, to the International Space Station (ISS). It was a time when Canada was in the “Critical Path” and it was important, let me explain.

When the International Space Station (ISS) was conceived, international contributed components were not meant to be on the “Critical Path”. The restriction was waived to allow Canada to contribute the Canadarm2. Canada was now in the Critical Path in building the ISS.

Without Canada’s contribution there would be no International Space Station. That’s what it meant to be in the “Critical Path”.

The Canadarm2, the Mobile Base System and Dextre were all needed to build and make the ISS what it is today, an incredible demonstration of what humanity can accomplish when it works together.

Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (Dextre)
Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (Dextre). Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

When Prime Minister Chrétien announced Canada’s latest contribution of Dextre he said “the ‘Canada Hand’ will be a key component of the Mobile Servicing System, Canada’s contribution to the International Space Station, and will be attached to the end of the new generation ‘Canadarm’ used to assemble and maintain the International Space Station in orbit. The Space Station, the largest international scientific project ever undertaken, is being jointly built by the United States, Canada, Russia, Japan and 10 European countries.”

“The development of the ‘Canada Hand’ is intended to pave the way for a whole new generation of advanced robotic products with large global markets, creating jobs and opportunities for Canada,” the Prime Minister said.

Today, Canada’s investment in robotics had led to terrestrial spinoffs including the neuroArm, “the world’s first robot capable of performing surgery inside magnetic resonance machines” according to the Canadian Space Agency.

Then there’s the Image-Guided Autonomous Robot (IGAR) used in dealing with breast cancer which provides increased access, precision and dexterity, resulting in highly accurate and minimally invasive procedures.

There’s also KidsArm being used at Toronto’s SickKids Centre for Image-Guided Innovation & Therapeutic Intervention. “The third prototype of KidsArm, the first image-guided robotic surgical arm in the world specifically designed for pediatric surgery, is currently being tested at SickKids Hospital, and researchers are hoping that the technology might soon lend a helping hand to surgeons around the country.”

Prime Minister Chrétien made the historic announcement while in Washington meeting President Bill Clinton. At the press conference the president said “I also want to salute the Prime Minister for his government’s determination to support peace in Bosnia and Central Africa and other troubled places of the globe and especially for his nation’s steadfast engagement in Haiti. Canada’s efforts to help democracy put down strong roots in Haiti will long be remembered as a hallmark of the commitment to principle of the Canadian people.”

“Our work together spans the globe. It reaches into the heavens. I’m pleased that the Prime Minister has brought with him today a model of the remarkable 11-foot Canada Hand that will be used to build the international space station. I have personally seen it in its full size, Mr. Prime Minister, and it is a dramatic and important contribution. This instrument will perform delicate assembly work essential for the space station’s construction. And I thank you and your Cabinet for voting last month to fund this important project.”


Listen to the President Bill Clinton remarks between the 5:34-6:41 minute mark and Prime Minister Chretien’s remarks from 14:00-14:16.

Being in the Critical Path

As Canada formulates a new Space Strategy to be unveiled in June, it’s important to remember what Canada’s contributions to the international community have meant and the spinoffs that have benefited Canadians and humanity.

Canada should continue to make significant space contributions.

The international space community is contemplating what comes after the ISS. The moon and Mars beckon. Canada needs to consider hard what it will take to be a part of the “Critical Path” of the next great mission.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactice Inc. Boucher has 18 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 25 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.