Space Station's Robot Mechanic Makes Out-of-This-World Repair

The Dexte robot serves as an orbital mechanic on the International Space Station.
The International Space Station's two-armed robot Dextre is visible on right next to the Canadarm 2 robotic arm. (Image credit: NASA)

A robot on the International Space Station has completed a job that until now has only been possible with spacesuit-clad astronauts conducting spacewalks.

Late Monday (Aug. 29), the $200 million Canadian-built Dextre robot successfully removed a broken circuit-breaker box from the outside of the orbiting laboratory and replaced it with a new one. The box, called a Remote Power Control Module, controls the flow of electricity through the station's secondary power distribution system.

"The robot swapped the failed component for a fresh one, thereby restoring part of the orbiting lab's backup electrical systems," NASA officials wrote in a statement. "The maneuver marks the first time Dextre replaces defective equipment on the Station." [Video: Mr. Dextre, AKA 'Gigantor']

Flight controllers on the ground operated the two-armed robotic handyman remotely. Meanwhile, the six astronauts currently living on the space station, whose job this normally would have been, slept. Dextre's work will enable them to devote most of their day to science experiments, NASA said.

The accomplishment marks a major milestone for the Dextre robot, also known as the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator, which was built to reduce the need for spacewalks that can be risky and time-consuming.

"Up to now, exchanging the boxes was done by spacewalkers, which always carries a certain level of risk," NASA officials wrote. "Dextre was designed to reduce the need for astronauts to conduct spacewalks for routine maintenance, therefore freeing up the crew's time for more important activities, like conducting science."

Dextre was built by the Canadian Space Agency, one of five international partner agencies collaborating on the International Space Station. It was launched on the space shuttle Endeavour in March 2008. [Photos: NASA's Last Shuttle Mission in Pictures]

The robot has an 11.5-foot (3.5-meter) body and two 11-foot (3.3-meter) arms. It was maneuvered around the outside of the football-field size International Space Station by the Canadarm 2 robotic arm.

Later this week Dextre has another job relocating two storage pallets containing equipment that will be used during the upcoming Robotic Refueling Mission, an upcoming test of new technologies designed to allow satellites to refuel autonomously in space.

You can follow senior writer Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz. Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcomand on Facebook.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.