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The Mission

The Beginning

It’s 21 April 2001. Astronaut Chris Hadfield and his crewmate Scott Parazynski have just docked the space shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station (ISS).

In less than 24 hours, Chris will face the biggest challenge of his life.

The first module of the ISS was launched in 1998. Two and a half years later, the station is still a work in progress and only a fraction of the size it is destined to become.

On his first ever spacewalk Chris will attach a giant robotic arm, Canadarm2, to the exterior of the ISS.


Canadarm2 weighs an impressive 1,640kg and measures 17.6m. Yet, despite its bulk, this motorised limb has greater dexterity than a human arm.

Once in place, the second-generation arm will help to build more modules onto the ISS; assist with maintenance, repairs and the docking of space shuttles, and even carry astronauts around during future spacewalks.

The Pressure Is On

No one is more aware of the importance of the mission than Chris. He has spent years training and preparing for this moment. It will not only be his first spacewalk – and the first by a Canadian – but he must install some pioneering Canadian technology on the most expensive object ever built.

And the whole world is watching.

Ready For Action

We had to get the arm built on our flight or the next shuttle couldn't go”

Final Prep

Inspecting The Gear

The night before his first spacewalk, Chris meticulously checks all of his equipment, pre-assembling as much of it as possible.

He spends hours polishing the visor of his space helmet, using anti-fog solution so that his breath won’t steam it up.

The Final Countdown

In the hours leading up to a spacewalk, NASA organises each astronaut’s time into short, five-minute chunks. Everything is scheduled, from washing and eating to using the toilet.

In honour of this historic mission, NASA plays a song by Canadian musician Stan Rogers as Chris’s wake-up call. Breakfast consists of dried peaches, breakfast cereal, tortilla, orange and mango juice and coffee.

Chris scrubs his hair with no-rinse shampoo, before drying off — a stray wet hair could float anywhere and end up causing all sorts of problems.

The Microgravity Toilet

Time for a last trip to the toilet. It’s one of the less dignified aspects of life in orbit, but human waste is the last thing you want floating free.

During a spacewalk astronauts also wear an adult-sized nappy, just in case.

Chris Hadfield's recording of the toilet in action:

The toilet hole measures just four inches across. To help improve aim, NASA’s training toilet in Houston has a camera in the bowl.

The astronaut is strapped to the ‘orbital outhouse’ and a suction system does the job of gravity, pulling solid waste down.

Astronauts avoid foods that increase bowel movements and may have their bowels cleaned before launch.

In 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space, at which stage a new funnel-shaped fitting was introduced.

Astronauts use a suction tube with a funnel or cup attached to urinate. The ISS recycles the urine into drinking water.

Toilet-paper options on-board include soft tissue or a coarser variety, apparently preferred by the Russian cosmonauts. There are also disinfectant wipes and gloves.

Suiting Up

An astronaut’s suit is like a lightweight spacecraft – built to protect the wearer from the challenging conditions of space.

The suit maintains a stable pressure, provides an oxygen supply and protects against the extreme temperature variations of -157°C to 121°C.

With no ozone or atmosphere in space, the suit must also protect the astronaut’s skin and eyes from the sun. Its white colour and gold visor help reflect the sun’s powerful rays.

The helmet has an impact-resistant cover to protect from space debris, a gold visor to reflect sunlight, and a camera so Mission Control can see what’s going on. The inside of the visor is treated with anti-fog solution before use.

Astronauts breathe 100% oxygen. Their Primary Life-Support System (PLSS) provides enough oxygen for an 8.5-hour spacewalk.

Astronauts operate the PLSS using a chest-mounted Displays and Control Module, viewed via a mirror on their sleeve.

During a spacewalk, astronauts cannot use the toilets on the ISS, so they wear a maximum-absorbency garment – essentially an adult nappy.

A waist bearing connects the Lower Torso to the Hard Upper Torso, letting the astronauts turn.

On top of their inner gloves, astronauts wear outer gloves, with heated and rubberised fingertips to keep fingers warm and help with grip.

An in-suit drinking bag holds two litres of water, which the astronaut can access using a straw in their helmet.

The Spacewalk

The Vacuum of Space

Once Chris and Scott are in their suits, they carefully depressurise the airlock and check the LED displays on their suits to ensure they’re fully functional and completely leak free.

A leak in your suit could cause your lungs to rupture; your eardrums to burst; your saliva, sweat and tears to boil; or lead to a bout of decompression sickness, known as ‘the bends’.

The Moment You’ve Been Waiting For

It's like an Olympic sprinter in the blocks on the day of the 100m final with the gun about to go off”

Exit Strategy

Wearing a spacesuit makes any task slow and cumbersome – and climbing out of the shuttle is no exception. Chris carefully opens and removes the hatch, before storing it safely in an overhead rack.

He knows his exit won’t be graceful, but Chris is more concerned by the prospect of floating off into the darkness of space. He’s already tethered to Scott and is clutching another tether to attach to the rail outside the shuttle as soon as he can. In space, there’s no such thing as too many tethers.

Alone In The Universe

Waiting for Scott to leave the shuttle’s airlock, Chris is momentarily alone in the universe – connected to a spaceship travelling at 17,500mph around the Earth.

Behind him, the infinite depth and inky blackness of space. Before him, the vivid colours of Earth.

At One With The Universe

Everything's Going Like Clockwork

Houston We Have A Problem

The Leak

Astronauts have a water bag in their spacesuits, which they can drink from by biting on a straw to open the valve. Worryingly, Chris’s bag hasn’t worked since he left the safety of the shuttle.

Five hours into the mission, Chris notices some droplets of water floating right inside his helmet. He tries his best to ignore them but then suddenly his left eye starts stinging – and then snaps shut.

In Agony

I didn’t expect to have one eye go blind while I was outside on a spacewalk”

Extreme Conditions

Without gravity, tears don’t fall”

Don't Panic

Questions Of Life Or Death

The instant that Mission Control receives Chris’s message that he's now lost sight in both his eyes, NASA scientists begin to calmly investigate what might have gone wrong, starting with the worst-case scenario.

The team thinks it could be a contamination caused by a leak in the suit’s air-purification system, which removes carbon dioxide using lithium hydroxide — a particularly nasty chemical that would cause serious damage to Chris’s lungs. If this is the case, he has minutes to live.

His only option is to open his purge valve and vent the dangerous gas. Chris has enough oxygen to last him up to 10 hours, but he’s concerned that now he won’t have enough to complete the mission.

Out Of Breath

...venting my oxygen out into space...”

Sheer Willpower

Remembering his training, Chris remains composed. It’s the most high-profile assignment of his career and he’s determined not to give up.

The mission is a huge milestone for Canadian space exploration. Canadarm2 is Canadian designed and Chris is the first Canadian to perform a spacewalk. This is the worst possible moment for something to go wrong.

Yet, with Scott continuing to tackle the wiring on another part of the satellite, Chris is adamant that the job can still be completed.

First Sight

Blinking like crazy I tried to will my eyes to clear”

The Solution

It was quite an adventure to live through”

Back To Earth

Mission Completed

After a total of seven hours and ten minutes in space – the equivalent of more than four orbits of the Earth by the ISS – Chris and Scott successfully attached Canadarm2 to the Destiny laboratory module of the ISS.

Since its installation, Canadarm2 has played an indispensable role in the assembly of the ISS we see today, and continues to facilitate essential maintenance tasks and ‘cosmic catches’ (capturing and docking unpiloted spacecraft carrying supplies and equipment to the crew on board the ISS).

Solar Arrays

The eight solar panels are made up of more than 250,000 solar cells, which generate enough electricity to power around 200 homes.


1998: The Russian-built Zarya module was the first ISS component in space. The US-built Unity soon followed, and they fitted together perfectly in orbit.


2001: Canadarm2 is a robotic arm measuring 17m. It is used to handle heavy loads and even move crew around during spacewalks.


2001: NASA’s Destiny module is a cutting-edge research lab and home to the ISS’s very own ant colony.


2008: Kibo, Japanese for ‘hope’, is the largest ISS module. Its lab focuses on space medicine, Earth observations, material production, biotechnology and communications.


2010: The Cupola is a dome-like module with a 360° view – the ideal place from which to control Canadarm2, and to take photos of the Earth from space.


2010: Tranquility holds many of the ISS’s life-support and environmental-control systems – including the water-recycling system and toilet.


2008: Dextre is the ISS’s robotic handyman. Controlled from the ground, in the US and Canada, it carries out routine maintenance including changing batteries and cameras.


2008: The Columbus module is the European Space Agency’s largest contribution to the ISS, and features a biolab and external platforms.


2001: The Quest Joint Airlock allows the crew to exit for spacewalks. Before a mission outside of the station, the ISS crew will camp out in the airlock first. Pressure is slowly reduced as they sleep to lower the risk of decompression sickness.

One World

I have great optimism for our planet”