JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, March 16, 2008— -- Robot "Mr. Dextre," as the astronauts on the space shuttle and the space station have started calling him, is doing just fine.
Spacewalkers Rick Linnehan and Mike Foreman spent seven hours and eight minutes assembling the gigantic robot overnight. It turned into quite a chore when balky bolts refused to release one of Dextre's arms from the pallet he was attached to on the space station. Linnehan told Mission Control he felt like he was doing a one-handed chin up trying to unbolt Dextre's arm.
When the robot was finally assembled, then lifted out of his pallet, the sight was impressive enough to cause Linnehan to quip, "It's really eerie out here. It is pitch black and there's just this big white kind of humanoid-looking thing below me, arms and legs."
Lead Flight Director Dana Weigel was impressed with her first view of Dextre after the assembly spacewalk.
"You can see arms and legs," Weigel said, "and you can now see pretty much what Dextre is going to look like."
When will Dextre actually go to work? Weigel anticipates Dextre will be able to help astronauts change batteries on one of the space stations solar arrays next year.
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 was built by the Canadian Space Agency at a cost of $207 million. The Canadians have decades of robotic experience in space: The agency built the robotic arms on the space shuttle and the space station.
Dextre is an engineering marvel. It can pivot at the waist and its shoulders support two identical 11-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 1,300 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 like 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."
Once it is completely assembled, Dexter will be able to replace astronauts on some routine maintenance tasks on the space station. Its arms can perform taks like installing and removing batteries, which would involved bolting and unbolting connectors.
Five spacewalks are planned for Endeavour's nearly two-week visit, the longest ever by a shuttle. The next spacewalk is scheduled for Monday night, when astronauts Rick Linnehan and Bob Behnken will finish assembling Dextre.