Space Station Gets Helping Hand

Dextre is done.

Astronauts completed construction of the giant robot during an overnight spacewalk at the International Space Station. Dextre now has tools that any guy with a well-stocked tool bench would envy.

The 12-foot-tall robot received pan and tilt color cameras to serve as its eyes. It also got a pretty nifty tool holder assembly with an extension for socket wrenches, manipulators and an offset tool that will allow it to turn bolts that are too deeply set to be easily grasped.

Dextre is no plumber, which would have come in handy after a pipe under the floor of the Space Shuttle Endeavour's middeck sprung a slight leak.

Cmdr. Dominic Gorie's plumbing skills are being put to the test. To stop the leak, Gorie wrapped the pipe in towels held in place by duct tape.

NASA has been testing Dextre all week, putting its new robot through its paces to see how well it responds to computer commands. Its 11-foot arms with their seven joints each were tested for starting and stopping ability.

Dextre will give the space station operators an additional 30-foot reach when attached to the station's robotic arm. It is remarkably nimble for such a huge robot, designed to pick up something as small as a phone book and as large as a phone booth.

Inside the space station, astronaut Mike Foreman told rookie spacewalker Bob Behnken, "Go get' em, Bam Bam, you have an appointment with Mr. Dextre."

Behnken is a muscular astronaut who has earned the nickname Bam Bam from his colleagues, who predicted he would use his muscle to finish the tasks on hand, and he did.

Behnken and veteran spacewalker Rick Linnehan spent the night on a grueling six-hour, 54-minute spacewalk to finish building Dextre, the $209 million robot that is one of Canada's contributions to the space station.

Dextre came up in pieces in the payload bay of the Endeavour and had to be assembled on orbit during three spacewalks.

Lead flight director Dana Weigel said the spacewalkers' work was outstanding. "It was like threading a needle and they didn't miss a beat."

The spacewalkers clearly enjoyed their excursion outside, joking back and forth with each other.

Linnehan told his colleague, "Bob, you are looking big and white over there like the Michelin man." Behnken responded -- in honor of St. Patrick's Day -- "I sure wanted a green stripe [on my spacesuit]."

Linnehan paused during the spacewalk to admire the view. "I think maybe I just saw the Southern Cross and a satellite flyover."

This was the third of five spacewalks planned for the 16-day mission, the longest ever planned for a trip to the space station. The to-do list for the astronauts while their orbiter was docked to the space station included building Dextre and installing the first part of the complex Japanese Kibo module.

The next spacewalk is scheduled for Thursday, when astronauts will demonstrate a technique to repair damaged heat shield tiles on orbit.

NASA needs to know how to do this before it launches a space shuttle flight later this year to service the Hubble Space Telescope for the last time.

Hubble is in a different orbit from the space station and the Hubble crew would not be able to get to the space station for shelter if something damaged its space shuttle.

This mission is the 122nd space shuttle flight. NASA has 10 flights planned to finish building the space station before the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

Endeavour is scheduled for a night landing at the Kennedy Space Center, March 26.