Astronaut Julie Payette returns astrolabe to Museum of Civilization after trip to space

January 19, 2010

Astronaut Julie Payette returns astrolabe
to Museum of Civilization after trip to space

Gatineau, Quebec, January 19, 2010 — Samuel de Champlain’s astrolabe replica is back at the Canadian Museum of Civilization following a historic voyage to outer space. Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Julie Payette visited the Museum today to return a replica of the famous artifact, and to tell a rapt audience about her latest mission to the International Space Station.

The replica of the astrolabe, a well-known emblem of Canada’s heritage, rode along with Payette when the Space Shuttle Endeavour was launched on July 15, 2009. The successful mission delivered critical supplies to the Space Station and installed a new laboratory platform for scientific experiments.

“Samuel de Champlain’s astrolabe is an important Canadian icon symbolizing the birth of our nation,” said Dr. Victor Rabinovitch, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. “The Father of New France carried this navigational tool while exploring the vast land we now call Canada. Four centuries later, Julie Payette carried the astrolabe as she explored a very different frontier: outer space.”

Ms. Payette served as Flight Engineer and Mission Specialist representing the Canadian Space Agency. MissionSTS-127 was her second visit to the International Space Station; her first was in 1999.

“When the opportunity arose to bring an iconic Canadian object to space, the astrolabe’s historical and symbolic significance made it an obvious choice,” said Ms. Payette.

Champlain used his bronze astrolabe to measure the angle between the horizon and the sun or the pole star. Then, by consulting an astronomical table, he could estimate his latitude. The explorer is believed to have dropped the tool in 1613, while portaging around the rapids of the Ottawa River near Cobden, Ont. A farm boy found it in 1867, the year of Confederation, but it wound up in American hands. The astrolabe was returned to Canada in 1989.

The original astrolabe, measuring 19 x 14.5 x 3.1 cm, was too large to be carried aboard the Space Shuttle, so experts at the Museum of Civilization crafted a smaller but otherwise exact replica. Made of brass, it is a fully functioning, perfectly calibrated reproduction that matches the genuine artifact in every way but size.

Ms. Payette visited the Museum of Civilization today to return the replica, and to share her experiences through a video presentation in the Museum’s Theatre. Afterwards, she answered questions from schoolchildren and other members of the audience.

Ms. Payette made history during MissionSTS-127 by controlling three robotic arms and also installed a platform on the outside of the Space Station. The voyage was noteworthy for other reasons as well: It united a record 13 astronauts of five nationalities together on a single spacecraft, the International Space Station, and it was the first time two Canadians were in space at the same time — Ms. Payette’s colleague, Robert Thirsk, was already onboard the Space Station since last May. The 16-day mission featured five space walks and 248 orbits of the Earth, travelling 10,537,748 kilometers.

About the Astrolabe Replica