Shuttle astronaut to be first Canadian spacewalker
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) -- An astronaut flying on the space shuttle Endeavour should become the first Canadian to walk in space later this month. Chris Hadfield plans to perform his milestone march while helping install a $1 billion robotic arm to the international space station.
Endeavour is slated to launch April 19 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The primary mission for the seven-person crew: deliver a Canadian-built robot arm for Alpha, similar to a robotic appendage used on space shuttles.
"It's an amazing life experience and I'm excited to be in the thick of it," said Hadfield on Monday, referring to the busy construction schedule on Alpha. The fledgling station received its first occupants in November. In March, its second three- person crew began a four-month stay.
New arm really a worm
Canadarm2 is a "couple of generations evolved beyond the ones used on shuttles," Hadfield told reporters. The new arm is longer and more dexterous than shuttle predecessors, which were also built by Canada.
"The arm can reconfigure itself in all sorts of ways that shuttle arms cannot," Hadfield said. "It has four sensors so it can 'feel' what it's doing."
The new arm will move about the space station on a track with no permanent attachment. With grapple fixtures on each end, the 56- foot (17-meter) arm will move hand over hand along the station's walls, using a series of power and data ports for each step.
One end will remain attached to a power and data port while the other end looks for the next port, giving it the tail-over-head movement of an inchworm.
The Endeavour crew plans three spacewalks for the mission, mostly to put together and activate the new arm, Hadfield said.
Robot arms to shake hands
The new arm will even shake hands with the old arm, sort of. It is being carried up in a cradle. After it is installed on the station, the crew will use the new arm to pick up the cradle and hand it to the shuttle arm, said Hadfield. The shuttle arm then will pack the cradle in Endeavour's cargo bay.
Canada is paying almost $1 billion (C$1.4 billion) for the arm and its components. By comparison, the station's most expensive module, the U.S. laboratory Destiny, cost $1.4 billion.
Endeavour will also deliver the second cargo module built by the Italian Space Agency. The module, named Raffaello, will include more research equipment than any previous flight. The first module, Leonardo, flew aboard Discovery on the last shuttle mission that ended March 21.
Alpha poised for guests galore
Mission managers considered moving the launch a day earlier to better accommodate a Russian flight to the space station in late April, but ended up sticking with the original date.
The shuttle must be gone from the space station before the Russians can dock a Soyuz spacecraft that's needed as a fresh lifeboat. The Endeavour mission is expected to last 11 days.
That Soyuz launch is scheduled for April 28 from Kazakstan. The crew includes California millionaire Dennis Tito, who paid $20 million to Russian space officials to become the first tourist in space.
NASA opposes Tito's presence on the space station at this early stage of construction, but Russian space officials said they will launch Tito anyway. Talks between the two sides have failed to reach an agreement.
A variety of technical reasons prevent the shuttle and the Soyuz from being docked to the station at the same time.
Besides Hadfield, Endeavour's crew includes commander Kent Rominger, pilot Jeff Ashby, mission specialists John Phillips and Scott Parazynski, all from the United States; and mission specialist Umberto Guidoni of Italy and Yuri Lonchakov of Russia.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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