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3/25/2008
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Space Shuttle Endeavor Heads Home After Installing Robotic Equipment

The shuttle is scheduled to land Wednesday, ending a 16-day mission that included the installation of Dextre, a two-armed robotic system.

The space shuttle Endeavor is scheduled to land Wednesday, ending a 16-day mission that included the installation of a robotic system.

The shuttle's crew delivered a segment of a Japanese laboratory and a Canadian robotic system to the International Space Station, while taking a new crew member for an extended stay. The crew will bring back another astronaut who has been aboard the ISS for almost seven weeks.

NASA leaders said they will evaluate weather conditions at Kennedy before allowing the shuttle to return to Kennedy Space Center in the evening, when the astronauts will reunite with their families and undergo physical examinations.

The crew installed Dextre, a two-armed robotic system that repairs the space station, moves objects, and retrieves equipment. The robotic system looks like a human body and can turn at the "waist" and "shoulders," supporting arms and "hands" that can grip.

The "hands" have parallel retractable jaws and retractable motorized socket wrenches. They also have sensors that allow the robot to "feel" objects and react to movements. Each arm is 11.5 feet long with seven joints to provide a wide range of motion. The arms can handle up to 1,327 pounds.

The robot cannot move both arms at once. One arm must remain connected to the station while the other moves.

Dextre can use tools and work independently or alongside the astronauts to perform delicate tasks for crew members. The robot is equipped with lights, video equipment, and tool holders. The crew can view video to monitor the robot's progress.

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