Astronauts Build 'Monster' Robot in Space

Astronauts Build 'Monster' Robot in Space
Astronaut Rick Linnehan finishes work on the two-armed Dextre robot on March 16, 2008. Linnehan worked with fellow spacewalker Mike Foreman to attach Dextre's two giant, seven-jointed arms. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Thisstory was updated at 6:13 a.m. ET.

HOUSTON ? Two astronauts spent theirSaturday night assembling a giant robot outside the International Space Station(ISS), wrangling with stubborn bolts to attach the machine's two massive arms.

AstronautsRick Linnehan and Mike Foreman, who both arrived at the space station in NASA'sshuttle Endeavour, worked in the vacuum of space for 7 hours and 8 minutes toassemble the 1.7-ton Dextremaintenance robot. Several stuck bolts on a U-shaped shipping platformslowed down the two spacewalkers, but ultimately didn't stop them from piecingtogether the Canadian-built "Mr. Dextre."

"HeyDom, how's the view from the flight deck?" Linnehan radioed STS-123shuttle commander Dominic Gorie as the giant robot received its arms.

"It isunbelievable," Gorie said of Dextre's ongoing assembly. "You guys aremaking us all proud."

Theovernight spacewalk marks the second of no less than five planned for theSTS-123 shuttle mission, and came after fears that Dextre's vital heaterscouldn't be powered. Mission controllers here at Johnson Space Center, however, quickly discovered a flawedpower cable in the giant robot's Spacelab Pallet and remedied the glitchFriday evening.

Linnehanand Foreman kicked off their orbital construction work at 7:49 p.m. EDT (1149GMT) Saturday and finished their excursion Sunday morning at 2:57 a.m. EDT(0657 GMT). It was Foreman's first foray into the vacuum of space, Linnehan'sfifth ? giving the veteran spaceflyer 35 hours and 30 minutes of totalspacewalking time ? and the 106th total spacewalk dedicated to building thespace station.


Thespacewalking duo quickly ran into trouble after they left the safety of thestation's Quest airlock, meeting several stubborn bolts known as expansiondiameter fasteners holding down Dextre's gangly 11-foot (3.4-meter) arms.

Linnehanand Foreman tried to unscrew the restraints, but the two resorted to a crowbartool to pull them out like bent nails. The heavy-handed work elicited gruntsfrom the crewmembers inside of their bulky white spacesuits.

"Sorryfor the sound effects," Foreman said after prying at a stuck fastener."I'll have to get the ? jackhammer."

"Do wehave one of those?" joked Linnehan, lead spacewalker for the outing."We're really having to get medieval on Mr. Dextre."

Theastronaut duo eventually pulled out the retention bolts, allowing Linnehan torelocate each of Dextre's two 775-pound (352-kilogram) arms out of the pallet ?a move that allowed Linnehan to raisethe robot's giant torso out of its temporary home.

"It'sreally eerie out here," Linnehan said as he lifted Dextre's massive trunkfrom the end of the space station's robotic arm. "It's pitch black andit's just this big white kind of demonoid looking thing below me, with arms andlegs."

WithDextre's torso propped up out of the platform it rode into space on, Linnehanand Foreman made quick work of latching on the arms to the automaton'sshoulders.

"Wenow have a one-armed monster," announced Bob Behnken, the spacewalk'schoreographer and STS-123 mission specialist, as the first limb was secured.The second seven-jointed arm soon followed, allowing Linnehan and Foreman toreturn to the safety of the airlock.

So far,so good

Theirefforts left behind a nearly complete two-armed Dextre maintenance robot readyfor completion this week. During a third planned spacewalk, Linnehan andBehnken will pair up to give the robot a tool belt, camera eyes and a storageplatform, then ready it for installation on the space station.

DanaWeigel, space station flight director, said during a briefingafter the spacewalk that tests show the robot and its new additions are functioning perfectly so far.

"It'sbeyond the keep-alive point where we had it last night," Weigel said. "It'sin a functional mode and looking great."

GarrettReisman, an ISS flight engineer who helped installDextre's hands, said that he can't wait to see the robot fully assembled.

"He'llbe a great helper for us," Reisman told Saturday morning."He'll be able to set the scene for us, carry all the big bulky stuffthat's hard for us to carry around."

In additionto finishing Dextre in remaining spacewalks, Behnken and Foreman will alsoperform on-orbit experiments, test a gooey heat-resistant tile repair gunand store Endeavour's sensor-tipped inspection boom on the space station for the next shuttle flight.

Endeavourand its seven-astronaut crewlaunched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on March 11 and docked at the spacestation on March 13. The 100-ton orbiter is currently cleared for landing onMarch 26.

NASA isbroadcasting Endeavour's STS-123 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for'sshuttle mission coverage and NASA TV feed.

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Former contributor

Dave Mosher is currently a public relations executive at AST SpaceMobile, which aims to bring mobile broadband internet access to the half of humanity that currently lacks it. Before joining AST SpaceMobile, he was a senior correspondent at Insider and the online director at Popular Science. He has written for several news outlets in addition to Live Science and, including:, National Geographic News, Scientific American, Simons Foundation and Discover Magazine.