Space station robotic handyman flexes its muscles

Sun Mar 16, 2008 7:25pm EDT
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By Irene Klotz

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Astronauts aboard the International Space Station put their new mechanical maintenance man through a trial workout on Sunday, testing the joints on its gangly arms while crewmates prepared for another spacewalk to get the robot ready for service.

The Canadian-built robot, named Dextre, was assembled during an occasionally frustrating spacewalk that ended earlier Saturday by shuttle Endeavour astronauts Richard Linnehan and Michael Foreman.

Dextre's 11-foot (3.35-metre) arms were flown to the station anchored -- at some points too tightly -- to a work pallet.

"We may have to get medieval on Mr. Dextre," Linnehan remarked at one point when even a pry bar was not readily freeing a stuck bolt.

Eventually, the astronauts were able to pin Dextre's arms on his body, clearing the way for a spacewalk on Monday to outfit the handyman with a tool caddy, television cameras and other accessories.

Dextre is designed to operate on the station's robot arm, adding manual dexterity and another 30 feet of reach to assist spacewalking astronauts during station repair and maintenance tasks.

The latest addition to the $100 billion station is a storage closet for Japan's elaborate laboratory -- named Kibo or "Hope" -- which is due to arrive in May. A final section is scheduled to be installed in 2009.

NASA has until 2010 to complete construction of the station and retire its three-ship shuttle fleet.   Continued...

<p>Spacewalker Mike Foreman is seen outside the International Space Station's Qwest airlock in this view from the helmet camera of fellow spacewalker Rick Linnehan at the beginning of their extravehicular excursion (EVA) in this image from NASA TV March 15, 2008. Linnehan and Foreman will complete the assembly of the Canadian Space Agency's two-armed robotic system Dextre during their EVA. REUTERS/NASA TV.</p>