Astronauts bound for orbit this week will dabble in science fiction, assembling a "monstrous" two-armed space station robot.
Putting together the robot Dextre—part of Canada's contribution to the International Space Station—will be one of the main jobs for the seven Endeavour astronauts, who are scheduled to blast off in the wee hours of Tuesday, less than three weeks after the last shuttle flight.
They're also delivering the first piece of Japan's massive Kibo space station lab, a "float-in" closet for storing tools, experiments, and spare parts.
At 16 days, the mission will be NASA's longest space station trip ever and will include five space walks, the most ever performed while a shuttle is docked there. Three of those space walks will involve Dextre, which is sure to steal the show.
"A Little Monstrous"
With 11-foot arms, a shoulder span of nearly 8 feet, and a height of 12 feet, the Canadian Space Agency's Dextre—short for dexterous and pronounced like "Dexter"—is more than a little intimidating, at least for astronaut Garrett Reisman.
"Now I wouldn't go as far to say that we're worried it's going to go run amok and take over the space station or turn evil or anything because we all know how it's operated and it doesn't have a lot of its own intelligence," Reisman told the Associated Press last week.
"But I'll tell you something," Reisman said. "He's enormous, and to see him with his giant arms, it is a little scary. It's a little monstrous, it is."
Dextre will fly up in pieces aboard Endeavour, and it will be up to a team of spacewalking astronauts to assemble the 3,400-pound (1,500-kilogram) robot and attach it to the outside of the space station. That job will fall to Reisman, Michael Foreman, and Richard Linnehan.
"I feel kind of like dad on Christmas Eve, you know, opening up this present and trying to put it together for the son or daughter and going, 'Whoa, what have I gotten myself into here with this 'some assembly required' part of the space station," Foreman said.
Reisman, who will be moving into the space station, can't wait to see Dextre rise from its shuttle transport pallet, rotating up "almost like it's Frankenstein's monster coming alive."
In reality, there's nothing sinister about Dextre. The robot, in fact, was once in the running to be the Hubble Space Telescope's savior.