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Astronauts assemble Canadian robot on 7-hour walk

Mission Specialist Rick Linnehan participates in the mission's third spacewalk. Credit: NASA TV
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) March 18, 2008
Astronauts at the International Space Station Tuesday put in place a massive human-like robot designed to replace them in handling delicate maintenance tasks outside the ISS, NASA said.

Two US astronauts finished assembling Dextre, the robot that completes a major Canadian contribution to ISS operations, during a nearly seven-hour space walk that began Monday.

Rick Linnehan and Robert Behnken put together the tool-handling assembly of the 200 million dollar (126 million euro) robot and attached a spare-parts platform, readying Dextre for duties outside the ISS that have up until now been handled by astronauts.

Linnehan and Behnken wrapped up their walk after six hours and 53 minutes outside the station, doing so on the 43rd anniversary of the very first walk in space by a human, when a Russian cosmonaut strode into the abyss for 12 minutes on March 18, 1965.

"They did a fantastic job. Some of the maneuvers they had to do were like threading a needle," Dana Weigel, lead ISS flight director, said in a press conference after the walk.

"The mission is going very well," she added.

Delivered to the ISS on the space shuttle Endeavour, the "dextrous manipulator" is the third and final component of the Canadarm Remote Manipulator System, the robotic arm that is Canada's vital contribution to the station.

The arms of the human-shaped robot were put through a successful test on Sunday. After being joined to the Remote Manipulator System, Dextre is to be permanently stowed on the outside of the Destiny laboratory module on Tuesday. Over the next two days astronauts will put it through more tests of its joints and other capabilities, to ensure it is in working order.

Manipulated by joysticks inside the ISS or from ground control on Earth, the 1.56-tonne robot will conduct operations such as replacing small components on the station's exterior -- tasks which until now required a human touch.

Each of its "hands" has two retractable grippers that can grab equipment and tools. The hands also each carry a retractable motorized socket wrench, a camera and a light for viewing the work undertaken.

The robot's human-like upper torso swivels at the waist, and its arms were designed with seven joints to provide it with maximum versatility. Umbilical connectors provide power and data connectivity.

The 16-day Endeavour mission launched on March 11 is the longest at the ISS and will see the crew venture out on five space walks, totaling about 30 hours of work.

On Friday astronauts undertook another lengthy spacewalk to complete the installation of the initial component of Japan's Kibo laboratory onto the ISS.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory is a micro-gravity research facility which aims to a vital new stage in deeper space exploration.

With its installation, Japan gains a foothold on the ISS alongside the United States, Russia and Europe, whose laboratory Columbus was delivered to the station in February.

Another segment of Kibo is scheduled to be delivered to the ISS on the Discovery shuttle in May.

earlier related report
Space Tools Critical
Two US astronauts finished assembling the Canadian robot Dextre on Tuesday during a nearly seven-hour space walk outside the International Space Station, NASA said.

Rick Linnehan and Robert Behnken put together the tool-handling assembly of the 200 million dollar (126 million euro) robot and attached a spare-parts platform, readying Dextre to undertake delicate maintenance tasks which have up until now been handled by astronauts.

Linnehan and Behnken wrapped up their walk after six hours and 54 minutes outside the ISS, and on the 43rd anniversary of the very first walk in space by a human, when a Russian cosmonaut pushed into the abyss for 12 minutes on March 18, 1965.

Delivered to the ISS on the space shuttle Endeavour, Dextre is the third and final component of the Canadarm Remote Manipulator System, the robotic arm that is Canada's vital contribution to the station.

The arms of the human-shaped robot were put through a successful test on Sunday. After being joined to the Remote Manipulator System, Dextre is to be permanently stowed on the outside of the Destiny laboratory module on Tuesday.

Controlled by joysticks inside the ISS or manipulated by ground controllers on Earth, the 1.56-tonne robot will conduct operations such as replacing small components on the station's exterior -- tasks which until now required a human touch.

Each of its "hands" has two retractable grippers that can grab equipment and tools. The hands also each carry a retractable motorized socket wrench, a camera and a light for viewing the work undertaken.

The robot's human-like upper torso swivels at the waist, and its arms were designed with seven joints to provide it with maximum versatility. Umbilical connectors provide power and data connectivity.

The 16-day Endeavour mission launched on March 11 is the longest at the ISS and will see the crew venture out on five space walks, totaling about 30 hours of work.

earlier related report
Astronauts begin third spacewalk to assemble Canadian robot
Washington (AFP) Mar 18, 2008 Two US astronauts stepped out of the International Space Station late Monday on the third spacewalk to finish assembling a Canadian mechanical maintenance robot named Dextre, NASA said.

Mission Specialists Rick Linnehan and Robert Behnken stepped out of the ISS's decompression chamber at 2251 GMT to attach a spare parts platform and tool handling assembly to complete the robot.

The 200-million-dollar robot, the arms of which were put through a successful test on Sunday, will be able to handle maintenance tasks that have been performed by spacewalkers, allowing astronauts to focus on research inside the orbiting outpost.

Sent up on the shuttle Endeavour, which two days later docked with the ISS, Dextre is the third and final component of the Canadarm Remote Manipulator System, the robotic arm that is Canada's vital contribution to the station.

The 1.56-tonne robot will conduct operations such as replacing small components on the station's exterior -- tasks which until now required a human touch.

The robot's human-like upper torso swivels at the waist, and its arms were designed with seven joints to provide it with maximum versatility. Umbilical connectors provide power and data connectivity.

The 16-day Endeavour mission launched on March 11 is the longest at the ISS and will see the crew venture out on five space walks, totaling about 30 hours of work.

earlier related report
Astronauts ready for third spacewalk to complete robot
US astronauts prepared to again venture outside the International Space Station Monday to finish assembling a Canadian mechanical maintenance robot named Dextre.

Mission Specialists Rick Linnehan and Robert Behnken will spend most of the day "camping out" in the station's "Quest Airlock" to purge nitrogen from their bodies before they begin the third spacewalk of the mission that will begin at 7:23 pm (2323 GMT).

Early Sunday, two US astronauts attached mechanical arms to the robot, enabling it to take over some human tasks and reducing the need for future risky trips outside the station.

Their job got slightly complicated early in the seven-hour spacewalk when they encountered trouble unscrewing a couple of fasteners and removing one of Dextre's arms from its storage container.

The problem was eventually resolved with the help of a simple crowbar. But as a result, the spacewalkers fell slightly behind their timeline.

Linnehan and Mike Foreman, who arrived last week aboard shuttle Endeavour, recouped most of the lost time, performing their task using socket wrenches and drills to bolt the Dextre robot's two 11-foot (3.3 meter) arms.

The hitch notwithstanding, astronaut Steve Robinson, monitoring the events from Mission Control in Houston, Texas, congratulated all involved.

"You sure did a great job," he radioed. "You guys ought to be proud of yourselves."

Pierre Jean, a program director from the Canadian Space Agency, echoed the view saying the crew did "a fantastic job."

The 200-million-dollar robot, which was re-powered immediately after the walk, will be able to handle maintenance tasks that have been performed by spacewalkers, allowing astronauts to focus on research inside the orbiting outpost.

"Dextre looks quite a bit different today," observed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) flight director Dana Weigel. "It's almost fully assembled: It has two hands, two arms and the main body is pivoted up."

Astronauts installed Europe's first space laboratory in a shuttle Atlantis mission last month and Endeavour's crew added the first of three parts of Japan's Kibo research facility this week.

Dextre, sent up on Endeavour which is docked with the space station, is the third and final component of the Canadarm Remote Manipulator System, the robotic arm that is Canada's vital contribution to the station.

The 1.56-tonne robot will conduct operations such as replacing small components on the station's exterior -- tasks which until now required a human touch.

Its presence will boost crew safety by reducing the number of hours that astronauts will have to be outside the station, and allow them to focus on other tasks such as conducting scientific experiments in micro-gravity, according to the Canadian Space Agency.

Dextre's two hands are each about the size of a small microwave oven. They are equipped with built-in socket wrenches, retractable claws used to grip objects, and remote-control high-resolution cameras.

The robot's human-like upper torso swivels at the waist, and its arms were designed with seven joints to provide it with maximum versatility. Umbilical connectors provide power and data connectivity.

With Dextre delivered to ISS in nine separate pieces, the astronauts will use three of the Endeavour mission's five spacewalks to get it up and running.

Linnehan and fellow astronaut Garrett Reisman conducted the Endeavour mission's first spacewalk Friday to lay the groundwork for the robot's complicated assembly.

NASA plans to finish building the International Space Station by 2010, at which time it will retire its three-shuttle fleet.

Shuttle crew members also continued work putting together the first pressurized component of the newly delivered Japanese laboratory Kibo, the latest addition to the ISS.

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