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ISS astronauts take rest day after setting up giant robot

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) March 19, 2008
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station settled in for a rest day Wednesday after three lengthy spacewalks and a day readying the Dextre robot for work outside the station.

Astronauts used the station's robotic arm, Canadarm2, to manipulate Canadian-built, 200-million-dollar Dextre into place attached to the outside of the Destiny research module on Tuesday.

Manipulated by joysticks inside the ISS or from ground control on Earth, the almost human-like 1.56-tonne robot is designed to undertake operations that have until now required a human touch, like replacing small components on the station's exterior.

Officially known as a special purpose dexterous manipulator, assembly of the 12-foot (3.7-meter) robot was completed during the late-Monday, seven-hour spacewalk.

Dextre's "hands" both come equipped with two retractable grippers that can grab equipment and tools, and each carries a retractable motorized socket wrench, a camera and a light for viewing the work undertaken.

Kwatsi Alibaruho, ISS Orbit One Flight Director on this mission, told reporters late Tuesday that all the operations so far had gone very well. The astronauts deserved a rest day before undertaking two more space walks slated for the 16 day mission, the longest ever in the shuttle's history, he added.

"We've been working them at a pretty good pace and they've gotten very far ahead on the activities that were prescribed for this particular mission," Alibaruho said.

He said they were in good enough position to even tackle some smaller tasks originally planned for later missions in the hectic shuttle flight schedule.

"They've gotten far enough ahead that we certainly won't have to twist their arms too much to get them to rest tomorrow," he said.

Alibaruho said that one thing that had not worked out -- an attempt by the astronauts to install the Materials International Space Station Experiment Six onto the Columbus module -- could be attempted again in the fifth walk.

Latching pins designed to hold in place the suitcase-sized packages containing science experiments did not work when the astronauts tried to set up the experiments.

The fourth spacewalk is slated for Thursday, when mission specialists Robert Behnken and Mike Foreman will test a new repair technique for the shuttle's heat shield.

The US National Aeronautic and Space Administration continues play down the risks of such damage, which led to the 2003 shuttle Columbia disaster, when seven astronauts were killed as the shuttle disintegrated upon reentry due to damage to its heat shield.

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Dextre Flexes It's Muscles And Gets Ready To Work On The ISS
Longueuil, Canada (SPX) Mar 19, 2008
After a picture-perfect night launch on March 11 and three spacewalks to assemble it, Dextre was activated today. Canada's advanced, two-armed robot is now successfully installed on the International Space Station and ready for action. Endeavour's Canadarm lifted Dextre from its cradle in the Shuttle payload bay and handed it over to the International Space Station's Canadarm2 in a majestic manoeuvre known as the "Canadian handshake in space."

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