NASA: Astronauts, robot complete first spacewalk

Discovery crew members, Canadarm II retrieve experiment, unload ammonia tank

Two NASA astronauts early today worked hand-in-hand with a robotic arm during a six hour-plus spacewalk to attach a 1,700 pound ammonia tank to the International Space Station.

Space shuttle Discovery Mission Specialists Rick Mastracchio and Clayton Anderson worked in space from 1:31 a.m. EDT today to 7:58 a.m. in what was the mission's first spacewalk.

NASA noted this morning that today's spacewalk was the 234th conducted by U.S. astronauts, and the 141st spacewalk in support of the space station.

The replacement ammonia tank was brought to the space station aboard Discovery, which was launched from the Kennedy Space Center early Monday morning.

The astronauts this morning focused on lifting the tank out of the NASA shuttle's cargo bay. During the spacewalk, the space station's main robotic arm, Canadarm II, move the tank into position so it could be temporarily attached to the outside of the station.

The tank will be moved into its permanent position on the space station and attached there during the mission's second and third spacewalks on Sunday and Tuesday, according to the space agency.

During the spacewalk, Mastracchio and Anderson also retrieved an experiment that had been attached to the outside of the station's Japanese Kibo Laboratory, and removed a failed gyroscope that is part of the station's navigation system. The pair attached a replacement gyroscope.

The robotic arms onboard the space shuttles and the space station have long played key roles in various NASA projects.

There are three robotic arms on the space station - the Canadarm II, a newer device dubbed Dextre and a smaller robotic arm that's attached to the Japanese module.

The robots are regularly used to inspect the shuttle's heat shield for damage during liftoff. The devices are also used to move cargo out of the shuttle and attach it to the space station. Astronauts have even used the robotic arms to be tansported from one end of the space station to the other.

Canadarm II is expected to be used throughout Discovery's 13-day mission, which will continue into next week.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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