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Alfredo 03-14-2008 08:30 AM

Dextre gets hands
HOUSTON, Texas (AP) -- Spacewalking astronauts added hands to a robot outside the international space station early Friday as experts on the ground prepared to beam up a software patch they hoped would fix a problem getting power to the giant machine.

Engineers on the ground will scrutinize pictures taken during the docking for signs of damage.

The Canadian robot, named Dextre, needs to have power to heat its joints, limbs and electronics. The $200 million machine could be damaged if left cold for days.

Mike Suffredini, NASA's space station program manager, said he was confident the problem that cropped up Thursday could be resolved fairly quickly.

Canadian engineers suspected the trouble could be with a timer and created the software patch to fix it. Other options were being considered in case that didn't work, including relaying power to Dextre through the space station's robot arm.

In the worst case, spacewalking astronauts could go back out to disassemble Dextre and leave it in pieces at the space station, Suffredini said. That way, the robot would not have to be heated.

While spacewalkers Richard Linnehan and Garrett Reisman worked on the robot, two of their crew mates used a robotic arm to remove a Japanese storage compartment from shuttle Endeavour's cargo bay and attach it to the space station.

It's the first part of Japan's massive Kibo lab, which means "hope." Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to deliver the main part of the lab in May.

The spacewalkers oohed and aahed as the compartment glided slowly through space on the robotic arm.

The spacewalk, which lasted seven hours, was the first of five planned during Endeavour's unusually long stay at the space station. Three of them will focus on Dextre, one of the Canadian Space Agency's main contributions to the space station.

Dextre rode up on Endeavour in nine pieces, all of them attached to a transport bed. That transporter, or pallet, was unloaded from the shuttle early Thursday and attached to the railway system on the space station for the Canadian-built robot arm. That's when the power problem struck.

The 3,400-pound robot, when assembled, is 12 feet high and has a shoulder span of nearly 8 feet. It's designed to help spacewalkers with some of their more routine maintenance chores, with the eventual goal of reducing the amount of time astronauts spend outside.

It was the first spacewalk for Reisman, who flew up on Endeavour and will live aboard the station until June. It was the fourth spacewalk for Linnehan, who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope in 2002.

Toward the end of their outing, the spacewalkers were treated to a stunning view of city lights in the Midwestern United States, probably Chicago.

"Oh, wow. Wow. Wow. Wow," Linnehan said. "It's a pretty amazing view."

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