Robot Moved to Perch Outside NASA Lab

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- Dextre the robot got a prime parking spot at the international space station and should be able to keep it for at least a few months.

Astronauts moved the mechanical hulk to its new perch outside NASA's Destiny lab on Tuesday night, wrapping up nearly a week of robotic work.

Before they could relocate the robot, astronauts aboard the linked shuttle Endeavour and space station had to fold up Dextre's two arms, both of which have seven joints. It was a slow process that took an hour for each arm. The move itself, on the end of the space station's mechanical arm, went fairly quickly.

Dextre - a 12-foot giant with 11-foot arms - was launched into space in nine pieces aboard a transport bed, or pallet, that served as the robot-construction zone. Three spacewalks were needed to put the robot together. First, the hands were attached to the arms. Then the arms were connected to the torso. Finally, on Monday night, the eyes and tool belt were added.

The Canadian Space Agency supplied the $200 million-plus robot, conceived as an assistant to spacewalking astronauts. It may be months, or possibly even a year, before the robot is put to the test. That's how long it will take to check out the robot and allow an appropriate job to present itself.

Dextre's initial checkout went well, with just one minor flaw. When the waist joint was commanded to turn in preparation for the robot's relocation, it moved in the wrong direction, said flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho. Engineers believe the problem can be easily remedied with software.

At its new location, Dextre will be out of the way when Japan's massive Kibo lab arrives in May. The first part of Kibo, a storage compartment, flew up on Endeavour.

With their 16-day mission hitting the halfway mark, Endeavour's astronauts finally got some time off Wednesday. The mission is the longest planned shuttle flight to the space station ever.

The pace will ramp back up Thursday evening, when two of the crew were to float outside to test a caulking gun and high-tech goo. NASA wants to see how well the astronauts can fix deliberately damaged shuttle tile samples.

The experiment should have been conducted last year but was bumped because of a more pressing space station problem.

It's one of the many safety measures developed after Columbia was destroyed during re-entry in 2003 because of a gashed wing.

The fifth and final spacewalk of Endeavour's mission - to move the shuttle's thermal-shield inspection boom over to the space station - is set for Saturday night. They'll also try again to hang science experiments outside of the European lab, Columbus. Monday night's attempt failed because of some sort of interference.

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