Astronauts start spacewalk to wire up robot arm

Tuesday, April 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) _ Two astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavour ventured outside Tuesday for their second spacewalk to wire up a billion-dollar robot arm to its permanent new home at the international space station.

``Hello, sunshine,'' Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said as he and U.S. astronaut Scott Parazynski flew into sunrise nearly 240 miles over the Pacific Ocean just west of South America.

The astronauts exited Endeavour to connect power, data and video cables at the arm's ``hand'' that was plugged into a socket on the station on Monday. It will remain affixed there for the next year.

That hand secured itself to the station after the arm took its first 24-foot baby step from its 3,000-pound packing crate.

Hadfield and Parazynski wired up the arm through that crate during a seven-hour spacewalk on Sunday, but those cables were to be disconnected so the arm would get its power from the socket instead.

Other members of Endeavour's crew and the station crew on Tuesday started unloading 6,000 pounds of supplies from Italian-built cargo carrier Raffaello. The carrier hauled everything from food and clothes to racks to hold science experiments. Once unloaded, the carrier will be filled with trash and returned to Endeavour for the trip home.

The 58-foot arm, built by Canada, will act as a high-tech construction crane, adding more pieces to the station over the next 15 to 20 years.

With two hands and seven joints, it will be able to move end over end _ leapfrogging over itself _ as more sockets are installed on the station, called Alpha. The limb's construction ability will cut down on the need for astronauts to do similar outside work during spacewalks.

The arm will hand off its packing crate Wednesday to a smaller 50-foot arm attached to Endeavour in an orbital handshake.

But its first big job will come in June, when it attaches a pressure chamber to Alpha. That chamber will allow station astronauts to conduct spacewalks without the aid of a shuttle.

The space station's three-member crew of Russian cosmonaut and commander Yuri Usachev and U.S. astronauts Susan Helms and Jim Voss met Endeavour's seven-man crew for the first time since the shuttle arrived Saturday to deliver the arm.

After exchanging hugs and snapping pictures, Helms and Voss manipulated the arm from a control center in the station.

It was the first time the 3,618-pound arm moved on its own. The arm could not support its own weight on Earth, where it had to be supported by a massive rig for testing.

Next year, a rail car will be added to the station to extend the arm's reach. In 2003, its hands will get fingers for increased dexterity.