Space Station's Robotic Repairman Moves In

Space Station's Robotic Repairman Moves In
The International Space Station's Dextre robot is shown attached to the U.S. Destiny lab via a camera on the orbiting lab's exterior. (Image credit: NASA TV.)

Thisstory was updated at 9:21 p.m. EDT.

HOUSTON -The International Space Station?s (ISS) new mechanical maintenance man officiallymoved in Tuesday when astronauts attached it to the exterior of the orbitinglaboratory?s U.S. Destiny module.

Until today,the Canadian-builtrobot Dextre remained fixed on the platform that ferried it to the ISSinside the cargo bay of NASA?s shuttle Endeavour. But after three separatespacewalks to add hands, arms, camera eyes and a tool belt of sorts to themassive robot, Dextre is settled onto its new orbital residence.

?Dextre isnow grappled the lab?s grapple facility,? said ISS flight director Kwatsi Alibahuroin an evening briefing here at NASA?s Johnson Space Center.

Built bythe Canadian Space Agency, Dextre is a 3,440-pound (1,560-kilogram) robotdesigned to fill in for astronauts to replace batteries and perform otherroutine repair jobs that would otherwise expose a flesh-and-blood spaceflyer tothe added risk of a spacewalk. Its two 11-foot (3.4-meter) long arms are tippedwith hand-like grippers sensitive to light touches, can lift up to 1,323 pounds(600 kg) and position hardware with an accuracy of about 1/12 of an inch (2mm).

?He lookslike a gunfighter with his sidearm raised,? shuttle commander Dominic Gorie saidearlier today as he described the two-armed Dextre to Mission Control.

The$209-million robot is Canada?s latest addition to the ISS, where it joined itssimpler Canadarm2 cousin and a railcar-mounted work platform known as theMobile Base System.

Astronautsplucked the 12-foot (3.7-meter) tall Dextre free of its cargo pallet crib earlyTuesday using the station?s Canadarm2 robotic arm. They left the robot hangingout in space overnight and attached it to a grapple point on NASA?s Destinylaboratory at about 7:59 p.m. EDT (2359 GMT) tonight after performing somefinal tests.

About theonly glitch came when astronauts commanded the robot to pivot on its waistjoint.

Instead ofmoving in the expected direction, Dextre turned in the exact opposite way,Alibahuro said. The glitch is minor and may be due to a simple, yet errant,minus sign in one of the robot?s computer files, he added.

Dextre?selectrical hardware and arm joint brakes have already passed their own systemchecks, mission managers have said.

?We got itall up and running, so Dextre is alive,? Endeavour mission specialist RobertBehnken said this week.

Behnken andcrewmate Rick Linnehan outfitted Dextre with waist-mounted cameras and tool kitplatform duringa Monday spacewalk to prepare the robot for its move to the station?s hull.Two earlier spacewalks delivered the robot?s hands and arms.

With Dextrestowed on the Destiny lab - where it is expected to stay through at leastNASA?s next shuttle mission to fly in late May - astronauts aboard the ISS willretrieve the robot?s carrier platform from a perch on the station?s firstportside truss segment and return it to Endeavour?s payload bay for the triphome.

Theastronauts are also due to take a few hours off tonight to catch their breathas they pass the midpoint of their 16-day construction mission to the ISS. Thatoff-duty time is scheduled to begin at about 12:28 a.m. EDT (0428 GMT)Wednesday morning.

In additionto delivering Dextre, Gorie and his crew have swapped out one member of the station?sthree-person crew and installed the first piece of Japan?s massive laboratoryKibo (Japanese for ?Hope?), anattic-like module, for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Theastronauts are also slated to test a shuttle heat shield method that uses aspace age caulk gun to fill in dinged belly tiles with a pink ablative gooduring a Thursday spacewalk, then inspect the station?s balky starboard solararray joint in a Saturday excursion.

Alibahurosaid mission managers are also planning to call on Endeavour?s spacewalkingteam to reattempt the installation of a stubborn materials experiment to theISS exterior during their Saturday spacewalk. Astronauts had trouble trying to installthe experiment in a Monday spacewalk.

Endeavourand its seven-astronaut crew are in the midst of a record-long constructionflight to the ISS. They are due to depart the station on March 24 and return toEarth in the evening of March 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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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.