The U.S. space shuttle's current mission, one of the most technical ever attempted by NASA, would not be possible without the use of robotics, says Holly Ridings, the lead space station flight director for the Endeavour mission. "We have learned a lot about robotics and about working together with a robot," Ridings says. "Robotics is really one of the things that NASA has a lot of experience in and it's allowing us to do some wonderful things on the space station."
After docking with the space station on the morning of June 15th, the Endeavour crew will take the mission's first spacewalk, assisted by two robotic arms. Ridings says that while the astronauts work outside the space station, a robotic arm will lift a 4-ton piece of the Japanese complex out of the shuttle's payload bay. The piece, which will be attached to the outside of the Japanese module, is designed to hold its own payloads and host experiments that need to be conducted in outer space.
In addition to the station's two main robotic arms, which will hand off the new piece between them several times during the mission, a third robotic arm, attached to the Japanese module, will be used for the first time in about a week. The third arm, installed in June 2008, will pick up and move payloads to the new piece. The robotic arm's software features several redundancies and five to seven things would have to go wrong for the arm to let go of the space station and drift away, Ridings says.
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