NASA: Robotic arm attaches addition to space station

Robot now preparing to move seven-window cupola into position on Sunday

Thanks to some robotic heavy lifting early this morning, the International Space Station now has a 2,600-cubic-foot addition.

The Italian-built node, named Tranquility, is the latest add-on to the orbiting station. And Tranquility, which rode up to the station onboard NASA's space shuttle Endeavour this week, was lifted out of the shuttle's payload bay today and attached to the station largely thanks to a robotic arm.

The main robotic arm onboard the space station is dubbed Canadarm II. On Thursday night, it reached into the shuttle and plucked out the node, while the shuttle's own robotic arm held three cameras so astronauts inside the shuttle and the space station could get a better view of what was going on outside.

Canadarm II then moved the node into place the outside the space station and pushed it gently into place. NASA noted that Tranquility was then locked in place with 16 remotely controlled bolts.

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Nick Patrick, who were performing the mission's first space walk last night, connected heater and data cables from the station to the new node, integrating it with the rest of the station's systems. Mission Control reported that all data and heater connections are working well, and the vestibule separating Tranquility and the main station has passed its initial leak check.

The hatch between the station and Tranquility is scheduled to be opened at 9:14 p.m. EST tonight, according to NASA.

During the mission's second spacewalk slated for Saturday night, Behnken and Patrick plan to use insulation blankets and ammonia hoses to connect Tranquility to the station's cooling radiators.

Tranquility was temporarily attached to a seven-window cupola during its journey aloft onboard Endeavour. The cupola, which will serve as the central command post for the station's robotics work, is still attached to the node.

NASA expects that on Sunday the robotic arm will separate the cupola from the new node and move it to its own place on the space station.

"We couldn't get this work done without the robotic arms," Scott Wenger, head of NASA's robotic operations group, in an interview earlier this week. "It's essential to completing all of the mission's objectives."

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

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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