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NASA: Robots working perfectly in space mission

Three robots on space station, Endeavour 'walking' and moving equipment, astronauts

July 22, 2009 12:18 PM ET

Computerworld - After five days of carrying astronauts, lifting massive pieces of equipment and "walking" up and down the spine of the International Space Station, NASA says its robots are performing perfectly in its most technically complicated mission yet.

The seven-person crew of the space shuttle Endeavour are docked and working with the crew of the space station to install the final pieces of the Japanese laboratory on the orbiter. The work, which began on Saturday, simply couldn't be done without robotic arms - one on the Endeavour and two on the space station - doing all the heavy lifting, said Michael Curie, a spokesman for NASA.

"It's very exciting to see all the robotic equipment perform to the expectations that we've all had," Curie told Computerworld. "It's wonderful when you get everyone together in space after a year or two of training, and everything they've practiced using robotics is working just as planned. It's amazing to watch it all working against the beautiful blue background of the Earth."

Holly Ridings, lead space station flight director for the Endeavour mission, said in a previous interview that this is one of the most technical ever undertaken by NASA.

The robotic arm on the space station, dubbed Canadarm II, and the robotic arm on Endeavour have been working steadily since this past Saturday when they worked hand-in-hand to unload and maneuver the final part of the Japanese Kibo lab into place. The arm on the station lifted a 4-ton piece of the Japanese complex out of the shuttle's payload bay. This piece, which has been dubbed a "front porch", will be permanently attached to the outside of the Japanese module. It is designed to hold its own payloads, as well as host experiments that need to be conducted in outer space.

Once the station's robotic arm, called the big arm, extracted the porch from the shuttle, it handed off to the space shuttle's own robotic arm. While the shuttle's arm held the porch, the station's arm moved itself about 50 feet down the length of the space station by basically moving much like a child's Slinky toy.

Either end of the big arm can be used as the base, just as either end can be used as a gripping hand. Once the arm handed off the porch, its gripper end swung over and attached to the space station and the end that was originally attached to the station let go and freed itself to be used as the gripping hand.

At that point, the big arm reached out and took back the porch and moved it into place against the Japanese module where it automatically attached itself.

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