Great grandparent of R2D2 aboard ISS to help astronauts with difficult jobs

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Edinburgh, March 17 : The International Space Station (ISS) has got its newest crew member in the form of a robotic handyman nicknamed "R2D2's great- grandfather", who will perform heavy construction and maintenance tasks considered dangerous or difficult for its human colleagues.

According to a report in The Scotsman, the robot, who has been named as "Dextre", was flown to the ISS aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in nine pieces and assembled during a risky eight-hour spacewalk 220 miles above the Earth.

The astronauts who put together Dextre - while floating outside the ISS as it orbited Earth at 17,500 mph, were Richard Linnehan and Michael Foreman.

Standing 12ft tall and weighing 1.5 tons, Dextre has a human-looking torso that swivels at the waist, arms with seven joints and hands with retractable claws that can grip tools and objects from the size of a telephone directory to a telephone box.

Dextre will be used to carry out external jobs that could otherwise be fulfilled only by sending astronauts on punishing spacewalks.

It is operated by human commands and has dexterity and sensory abilities far superior to those of spacewalking astronauts, whose bulky spacesuits and thick gloves make precision tasks tricky.

The robot can move up and down, left and right and can tilt, pitch, yaw and even open compartment doors to rummage in its own toolbox, remove what it needs and use it to perform DIY (Do It Yourself) jobs.

"Dextre is unique in that it's able to remove and replace items on the space station rather than just move them around," said Michel Wander, a CSA engineer. "It can unbolt a computer or a camera or a component that has failed and replace it."

Dextre will live on the end of the Canadarm, from where it will have a bird's eye view of Earth.

It has four "eyes" in the form of sophisticated video cameras that feed images to astronauts inside the station, allowing them to monitor its performance, and lights so that it can work in the dark.

"I see this as the great-grandparent of robots like R2-D2 and C-3PO. It's an operational robot that's pushing the limits of what we can do in space today," said Daniel Rey, manager of the Dextre project for the CSA.

ANI

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