NASA astronauts complete space station work

Moving Endeavour's robotic arm to station, NASA team finishes work on U.S. segment of orbiter

NASA astronauts Friday wrapped up the fourth and final spacewalk of space shuttle Endeavour's last mission, moving a robotic arm from the space shuttle to its new home onboard the International Space Station.

And the placement of that 50-foot robotic arm also marked the completion of the U.S. segment of the space station after 12 years and more than 1,000 hours of spacewalk assembly time.

This morning's spacewalk was historic in several ways.

While this was the last spacewalk for the Endeavour crew, it also was the last spacewalk for any space shuttle crew.

The crew of the shuttle Atlantis, set to make its final run to the space station next month, won't conduct spacewalks. After this morning's excursion, only space station crew members will conduct spacewalks as needed.

Shuttle astronauts Greg Chamitoff, a software developer and robot specialist for NASA before becoming an astronaut, and Mike Fincke made this morning's spacewalk, mostly to remove the space shuttle's 50-foot robotic arm and attach it to the outside of the space station.

Since Endeavour will no longer be in service after this mission, NASA wanted the space station to be able to have another robotic arm for work on the orbiter.

Once Chamitoff and Fincke had the shuttle's robotic arm successfully mounted on the station, they went to work unloading and attaching a spare arm for Dextre, the station's $200 million Canadian-built robotic arm.

Dextre, a 3,400 pound, 12-foot-tall robot with a 30-foot wingspan, is designed to take on most of the maintenance jobs required outside of the space station, cutting back on the number of dangerous spacewalks the astronauts must make.

About five hours into the spacewalk this morning, the astronauts passed the 1,000 hour mark that astronauts and cosmonauts have spent doing spacewalks to assemble and maintain the International Space Station.

The shuttle crew has five more days in space before Endeavour is scheduled to return to Earth for the last time.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Read more about emerging technologies in Computerworld's Emerging Technologies Topic Center.

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