Sunday, March 16, 2008

Space: Canada's Robot & Japan's Room of Hope

American astronauts on STS 123 brought the Canadian super robot to the International Space Station in erector set pieces aboard Endeavor. Today, spacewalkers spent seven hours attaching Mr. Dextres' mechanical robotic arms. Saturday, the robot had his hands attached to eleven foot arms. No space high fives or hugging just yet between the over 12 foot bot with human attributes (no legs) and his much shorter ISS assembly team, but nice Canadians in the frozen tundra of North America are beside themselves with joy.

Sans billowing cape for his almost two tons of weightlessness, Mr. Dextre, short for Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, will be able to fly around Earth in 90 minutes, bend at the waist, do ISS household maintenance chores among other super powers about which we have no knowledge. First though, Dextre's hydraulic 'oil' pressure, flawless "hearing" and obeying of parental computer commands and basic circuitry motor skills need checking to get a clean space bill of health from Mission Control. (AP Photo/Canadian Space Agency via THE CANADIAN PRESS)
"Dextre's getting a checkup," Pierre Jean, acting program manager of the Canadian space station program, told a mission status briefing after the spacewalk.
He said the arms each had seven joints for movement along with brakes to hold them in place and that the crew would be checking these and essentially "breaking the brakes in."
"When you get a new car you don't slam on the brakes, you ease them in. This is sort of what they will be doing with the brakes in Dextre's arm," he said.
The robot can be mounted on the station's crane to transport equipment and handle routine maintenance chores, such as replacing electronics boxes.
Japan is still shrieking from their turn in joy as their ISS room addition, christened Kibō or Hope, is officially added and begins opening day on this mission too. Of course, like construction on Earth, delayed end results, but one conveniently forgets frustrations once the project adds its first natable component - a round storage bin. Ironically, given notorious space issues in Japan, the new addition will become the largest of all of the space station additions. It will be the size of a London Double decker bus, with all the tourists on it.

A spacewalking Takao Doi was weightless though filled with national pride as he added his country's contribution to space history.

Last month, Europe had their addition bolted on during the last mission.
"This is a small step for one Japanese astronaut, but a giant entrance for Japan to a greater and newer space program. Congratulations," Doi radioed to Japan's new space control center outside Tokyo.

The cylinder is basically a storage compartment for the main segment of the three-piece Kibo, scheduled for delivery on a May space shuttle flight.

The final piece will be flown up in early 2009.
It follows the installation in February of Europe's lab on the ISS, which is now truly a global affair.

The opening of Kibo marks the first time in the 10 years of space station construction that equipment from all 15 partner countries is operating together in orbit.

I think Mr. Dextre needs a robotic dog.
A design flaw in an electrical circuit has left the $209 million robot, named Dextre, without heaters to protect its systems from the minus 200-degree Fahrenheit temperatures of space.

Understand the history of robots and spaceflight in the detailed background book of Robots in Space: Technology, Evolution and Interplanetary Travel, released in January 2008. Roger D. Launius and Howard E. McCurdy touch upon the science fiction components of melding human biology with human physiology. This publishing effort is from the new NASA History Series.

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