Endeavour links with space station to deliver robot arm

Saturday, April 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) _ Space Shuttle Endeavour docked with the international space station on Saturday to deliver a massive billion-dollar robot arm that will act as a high-tech construction crane on the 240 mile-high outpost.

Commander Kent Rominger manually steered the shuttle through its final paces to hook up with the station over the South Pacific, near New Zealand. He took his time with the intricate process that involved cameras, lasers and a radar.

Endeavour's seven astronauts are the first visitors for Russian commander Yuri Usachev and American astronauts Susan Helms and Jim Voss since they arrived in March for a 4 1/2 month stay.

But the two crews won't meet face to face until Monday because Endeavour must maintain a lower cabin pressure in anticipation of a Sunday spacewalk. They will exchange tools and other items by leaving them for one another in a station compartment.

Voss videotaped the shuttle's approach through a window in the U.S.-built Destiny laboratory, which was delivered to the station in February.

Endeavour's crew spent Friday making sure equipment to be used during the one-week space station visit, including spacesuits, spacewalking gear and a 50-foot robot arm attached to the shuttle.

That arm will be used Sunday to hoist the new larger robot arm to the laboratory. Once powered up, the larger 58-foot arm will be able to walk end-over-end, like an inchworm, and add pieces to the station over the next 15 to 20 years.

Both arms were built by Canada, and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield will join U.S. astronaut Scott Parazynski in a Sunday spacewalk to unfold it, bolt it together and wire it up.

The shuttle arm has been used to help build the station, called Alpha, but the job required a larger, more dexterous arm as Alpha grew. The larger arm has two hands instead of one and more joints.

And at 3,618 pounds of aluminum, steel and graphite epoxy, the larger arm couldn't support its weight on Earth. Astronauts tested it through simulations, but Hadfield said it would get its first real test in orbit.

Endeavour also is hauling an Italian-built cargo carrier named Raffaello that contains nearly 10,000 pounds of gear, from food and clothes to laboratory racks and science experiments for the station crew.