Dextre: When Humans Just Won’t Do

Dextre in the highlighted area of picture. Image from Wikipedia. Click on it to go there.

It might come as a surprise to some people that Canada has a space agency–the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).  Some Americans might view our northern neighbor’s agency as a NASA-Lite, but that would be very untrue.  It might be even more surprising for people to know the CSA is very active and has provided some critical equipment to the cooperative international space programs going on today.

One of those pieces of equipment is a robot, called Dextre.  Dextre is orbiting overhead on the International Space Station (ISS) since March 2008, and serving as the station’s robotic handyman.  An engineer earned a bit of money by giving it its true name:  the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM).  Some people are also calling it the Canada Hand.  But thankfully someone decided the name Dextre is the better alternative.

The robot doesn’t look anything like Johnny 5.  It actually looks more like an albino praying mantis.  It has no head, but does have two 11 ft. long arms.  The arms’ “hands” can be configured to hold different kinds of tools and objects, and have an outlet to power particular tools.  Dextre’s body is nearly 12 ft. tall.   There are also TV cameras mounted on the body.

Dextre (in foreground, holding a “crate”) helped unpack HTV-2. This picture shows Canadarm2 releasing HTV-2 for re-entry. Image from Wikipedia.

While Dextre is pretty neat, its job is to do mundane and risky tasks on the outside of the ISS.  Canada is showing that a space robot can work well, and keep ISS inhabitants safe.  Its activities minimize the amount of times astronauts need to go out on a spacewalk and work, which is always risky.  Canada is also trying to show how a robot can effectively service and repair satellites (see video below).

The Canadians are justifiably proud of Dextre and their space accomplishments.  They even have it on their $5 bill (go to this wiki image to see it).  Not too shabby for a bunch of Canuckleheads…not shabby at all.  At least until Dextre becomes self-aware.  Then we’ll blame Canada.

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