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Shuttle Crew Hits Mission Midpoint with Robot Arm Test

Space Station's New Japanese Arm to Make First Move
The fading blue limb of the Earth backlights the shuttle Discovery docked at the ISS. At center is the station's six-jointed Japanese robotic arm folded up at the outboard end of the new Kibo lab.
(Image: © NASA TV.)

HOUSTON —Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) tested a new Japanese roboticarm for the first time Saturday as they passed the halfway mark of theirtwo-week construction flight.

?The weekhas gone way too fast,? Discovery shuttle astronaut Karen Nyberg said in aseries of televised interviews.

NASA?s spaceshuttle Discovery launchedtoward the station on May 31 to deliver Japan?s $1 billion Kibo sciencelaboratory, a tour bus-sized module that sports its own small airlock, twowindows and a 33-foot (10-meter) robotic arm.

Nyberg andJapanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide flew the arm through a slight move today toclear space for astronauts to work near it during a Sunday spacewalk.

?It?s a bigmilestone, we have our own house here now,? Hoshide told reporters of Kibotoday. ?And it?s bigger now so people can start doing some science here.?

Astronauts deliveredthe 37-foot (11-meter) Kibolaboratory earlier this week and attached its storage attic, a smallrooftop module, on Friday. They plan to conduct more robotic arm tests andreopen the storage room on Monday.

Tomorrow, spacewalkersMike Fossum and Ron Garan plan to venture outside the space station to replacean empty nitrogen tank serving the outpost?s cooling system and inspect amassive port-side gear. The gear rotates the station?s port solar wings like apaddlewheel to track the sun.

Fossumspotted what appeared to be excess grease on the gear?s main metal ring duringa Thursdayspacewalk and photographed areas that may contain minor bits of debris,NASA officials said.

?It reallylooks to me like a little bit of grease,? Fossum told reporters today.

Engineershope Fossum can collect samples of the stuff to aid ongoing analysis and repairefforts with a similar gear on the station?s starboard side that has beendamaged by metal grit contamination.

Sunday?s spacewalkwill mark the third for Discovery?s seven-astronaut crew and the final plannedexcursion for the shuttle?s14-day mission. The shuttle is scheduled to undock on Wednesday and land onJune 14.

?Themission is going great,? said Discovery commander Mark Kelly, adding that Japan?sKibo laboratory is nearing full activation. ?It?s getting close to being fullyfunctional facility.?

NASA isbroadcasting Discovery's STS-124 mission live on NASA TVon Saturday. Click here forSPACE.com's shuttle mission updates and NASA TV feed.

 

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