March 17, 2008 / 12:40 AM / 10 years ago

Spacewalkers outfit Canadian robot with tools

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Two shuttle Endeavour astronauts left the International Space Station on Monday to outfit a newly installed robotic maintenance man with tools and cameras for future chores.

The robot, named Dextre, was launched in pieces and assembled during the second of five spacewalks planned during Endeavour’s 12-day stay at the station.

Monday’s outing, the mission’s third, paired veteran spacewalker Richard Linnehan with rookie Robert Behnken.

“Go get ‘em BamBam,” Endeavour astronaut Michael Foreman said, using a nickname for the muscular Behnken. “You have an appointment with Mr. Dextre.”

The duo stepped out around 7 p.m. EDT to begin a seven-hour spacewalk.

In addition to attaching a tool belt and other accessories to the Canadian robot, the astronauts plan to install a science experiment to the outside of Europe’s Columbus laboratory and stash some spare parts on the station’s frame for future maintenance.

Canada provided the $209 million robot to cut down on the amount of time astronauts will need to spend on risky spacewalks. With its 11-foot(3.4-metre) arms and gripper hands, Dextre adds manual dexterity and another 30 feet of reach to the station’s robotic crane.

Earlier Monday the Endeavour crew tested Dextre’s 14 joints -- seven on each arm -- which will give the robot the ability to handle items as small as a phone book or as large as a phone booth.

The shuttle crew arrived at the station on Wednesday to install Dextre and deliver a storage room for an elaborate Japanese laboratory that is due to arrive during NASA’s next shuttle mission in May.

NASA has 10 more flights planned to complete the $100 billion space station and deliver supplies before the shuttles are retired in 2010. A final servicing call to the Hubble Space Telescope also is scheduled for late summer.

During their fourth spacewalk on Thursday, the Endeavour crew plans to test a heat shield repair technique that NASA wants to demonstrate before sending astronauts to work on Hubble.

The Hubble repair crew will not be able to reach the space station for shelter in case their ship is too damaged to return to Earth. NASA added inspections and developed a rudimentary heat shield repair kit after losing the shuttle Columbia and seven astronauts in 2003 due to damage caused when a piece of debris hit the ship during liftoff.

Editing by Philip Barbara

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