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In 1984, ice was accumulating on the side of the Space Shuttle Discovery, spelling possible disaster, luckily it was the first mission of Dr. Judith Resnik, and the Canadarm.

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Start building your data science and analytics skills by clicking the link in the description. [♪ INTRO]. Ice was building up on the outer layer of spacecraft STS-41-D.

It was the maiden flight of Space Shuttle Discovery in 1984. And it was also Dr. Judith Resnik’s first voyage.

As a mission specialist on the flight, she knew that even a small amount of ice accumulating on the outside of the shuttle could damage the shuttle when re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. Luckily, Resnik, NASA, and Canadian researchers had worked together to build technology that could move large devices and other objects in space: a robotic arm called the Remote Manipulation System, affectionately nicknamed the Canadarm, a nod to its creation in Canada. And on the Discovery mission, Resnik and the crew became known as the “Icebusters” when they put that new invention to the test when ice accumulated on the ship.

The shuttle’s electricity was generated by fuel cells that produce water as a byproduct. And when that water got vented to the exterior of the shuttle, it would freeze. Now, the ice chunks themselves were not deadly.

But they could fall off and damage the shuttle, or they could cause part of the shuttle to crack. And in creating this robotic arm, they had to solve for a few different problems. Ideally, the arm would have the capacity to lift massive loads, function in multiple planes, be remotely manipulated, and be reusable for repeated missions.

The team Dr. Resnik was part of was tasked with creating an arm that would be capable of serious lifting. In the case of Discovery, it ended up being used to remove ice from the shuttle, but beyond that, it would also be needed to lift and deploy satellites from the Shuttle’s payload bay right into space, and be able to nab satellites for repair.

It would also need to assist spacewalking astronauts as an anchor that they could hold onto for safety even when they were a significant distance from the shuttle, and half a dozen other functions. And all of these manipulations needed to be done very delicately to avoid damage to the outside of the Shuttle. Resnik was an electrical engineer and software engineer with NASA, she had complementary skill sets that were perfect for this job.

So she was chosen to develop software and operational procedures for the Canadarm. And to achieve all this delicate work, the arm didn’t just need to be strong, it needed to have a pretty big range of movement. Resnik used her training as a biomedical engineer at the National Institutes of Health to help develop a human-like robot arm.

It had a shoulder, an elbow, and a wrist that could all move and be manipulated from inside the spacecraft. The idea might seem simple now, but no one had ever used a robotic arm in space before. Before the arm was invented, astronauts had to suit up and hop outside to fix problems themselves.

But spacewalks are risky. So in the early days of the Shuttle program, NASA was looking for ways to service spacecraft from the inside. Their solution was to mount the arm on the outside of the shuttle and operate it from the safety of the ship.

Resnik communicated between engineers and designers, created software to control the arm, and tested it before sending it into space. And all that work kept her in meetings and briefings in Canada for years. In the end, to achieve each of the team’s goals, the Canadarm ended up being 15 meters long and costing $100 million.

And Discovery’s mission was a success. During this flight, Resnik was able to help operate the Canadarm not only to clear ice off the Shuttle but also to deploy three satellites. And today, there are several Canadarms: there’s the Canadarm, the Canadarm 2, and the Canadarm 3.

The first Canadarm was the first robotic arm in space. The second Canadarm has serviced the International Space Station since 2001, and the third will operate aboard the Lunar Gateway. The original Canadarm that Resnik operated has been retired.

But it was clear after its trailblazing first mission aboard Discovery that it would be an asset as a permanent fixture in space, ready to be operated over and over again for any occasion. And Candarms 2 and 3 are even more impressive than the original! A third joint was added to the shoulder to take it from six to seven degrees of freedom, including the one elbow joint and the three wrist joints.

Candarm 3 can also rotate a full 360 degrees, compared to the original’s 160 degree reach. And Canadarm 3 can even automatically avoid collisions! And we have this technology today thanks to Resnik and the rest of her team.

She used her experience as a biomedical, electrical, and software engineer and as a former pilot to help develop innovative technology that is still helping astronauts today. And not only that, but with her first flight on Discovery, she also became the first Jewish woman in space, the first American Jew in space, the second American woman in space, and the fourth woman ever in space. Unfortunately, her final flight was the final mission of the Space Shuttle Challenger that ended in disaster.

But her contributions, and those of her fellow crew members, will not be forgotten. In fact, Dr. Resnik even has a part of the Moon named after her.

Resnik Crater is on the far side of the moon. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Space! And thank you to DataCamp for sponsoring this video.

Whether you are a scientist like Dr. Resnik or in a totally different industry, you can learn data science with bite-sized lessons with DataCamp. You can click the link in the description to check out the first chapters of each course for free! [♪ OUTRO].