He's Alive! Robot On Shuttle Is Activated

Dextre's got two arms and a brain and can help astronauts with chores.

ByABC News
March 15, 2008, 10:39 AM

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, March 15, 2008— -- Dextre is alive.

Flight controllers breathed a big sigh of relief when the robot powered up after being hooked up to the international space station's robotic arm.

Pierre Jean, with the Canadian Space Agency says his team was elated. "It's fair to say we were confident this would work and we were very happy; a lot of people worked nonstop for 24 hours to solve it."

NASA launched its Team Four into 24-hour mode when Dextre failed to power up earlier this week when it was pulled out of the space shuttle's payload bay and parked on the International Space Station.

The problem was narrowed down to a faulty circuit, one that can'teasily be replaced, so NASA came up with a Plan B, and it worked.

Astronauts Rick Linnehan and Mike Foreman will head out on a spacewalk to finish assembling Dextre late Saturday now that it has power.

While Dextre (short for Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator) is not the most important addition to the space station it is one of the most engaging because the robot is so quirky and gangly.

Dextre can pivot at the waist and its shoulders support two identical eleven foot arms with seven joints for a good range of movement. The arms will only move one at a time to help keep the robot stable on orbit. Dextre can lift up to 1300 pounds and can position instruments with great precision -- and, because it has sensitivity in its "hands," is able to gauge pressure.

Astronaut Garrett Reisman spent his first spacewalk working on Dextre and he told ABC News the robot is quite impressive. "When Dextre is up and running he looks a lot a person, he has two arms, a body, a head, and he is designed to do basically the same things we do on a spacewalk."

Just what will Dextre be able to do once it is assembled? It will be able to replace astronauts on some routine maintenance tasks on the space station. Its arms can perform tasks like installing and removing batteries, which would involved bolting and unbolting connectors.

Dextre will stay hooked up to Canadarm 2 and have its thermal clocks reset. Space Station manager Mike Suffredini likes to call events like this just another day in learning how to operate an International Space Station on orbit.