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Robot mounted on space station

Wed., March 19, 2008

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Astronauts moved Dextre the robot to its new perch outside the International Space Station on Tuesday after devoting nearly a week to putting together and creating the monster-size machine.

Dextre – a 12-foot hulk with 11-foot arms – will remain at its new location on the U.S. lab, Destiny, for at least a few months.

Before they could move the robot on the end of the space station’s mechanical arm, astronauts aboard the linked shuttle Endeavour and space station had to fold up its arms. It was a slow process that took an hour for each arm, with its seven joints.

When the robot finally clamped onto the lab, flight controllers had to take extra steps to resolve a computer software problem. It was not unexpected, and the robot had a solid grip on the lab, said flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho.

Dextre was launched into space in nine pieces aboard a transport bed, or pallet, that served as the robot-construction zone. Three spacewalks were needed to put the robot together. First, the hands were attached to the arms. Then the arms were connected to the torso. Finally, on Monday night, the eyes and tool belt were added.

The Canadian Space Agency supplied the $200 million-plus robot, conceived as an assistant to spacewalking astronauts. It may be months, possibly even a year, however, before the robot is put to the test. That’s how long it will take to check out the robot and have an appropriate job present itself.

Dextre’s initial checkout went well, with just one minor flaw. When the waist joint was commanded to turn in preparation for the robot’s relocation, it moved in the opposite direction, Alibaruho said Tuesday night. Engineers believe the problem can be easily remedied via software.


 

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