As if Canadarm wasn’t the best name of anything in space (it’s a Canadian arm for the International Space Station), the Canadian Space Agency has now put Dextre into space. What is Dextre? Well he’s the hand to Canadarm’s arm.
The team that built him have kept referring to him as a person despite Dextre being a very important, and serious, addition to the ISS. Endeavour’s recent mission to the orbiting space station was partly to deliver Dextre and install him for use.
After Endeavour leaves the station in a few days, Canadarm (well technically now Canadarm2) will pick Dextre up by his head and put him to use in a series of tests. He is designed to perform tasks that astronauts would normally have to do during risky spacewalks. Now, the astronauts on board can carry out routine maintainence tasks without leaving the safety of the station’s modules. Dextre is even designed to be operated from the same controls as Canadarm2. He can also be operated remotely, from the Earth.
The need for Dextre has arisen as the ISS has become larger and thus needs more frequent repairs and maintenance work. Also, NASA will be retiring the space shuttle fleet in 2010 so the frequency of visits to the station will reduce and robotic and remote work will become more of a requirement.
If you want to hear more about Dextre, I recommend the fabulous Quirks and Quarks science show from CBC. You can download Quirks via a podcast or listen via radio in Canada and via Sirius satellite radio. They did an interview about Dextre in their March 1st show.
Or visit the Canadian Space Agency Dextre website.