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Shuttle Crew Flexes New Robot Arm

August 09, 1997| From Associated Press

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — The space shuttle Discovery's astronauts Friday tested a new robot arm, a 5-foot Japanese wonder intended for precision work on the future space station.

The satellite released by the crew, meanwhile, began gathering data on Earth's ozone layer.

Astronauts Jan Davis and Stephen Robinson spent much of their second day in orbit flexing the new $100-million arm. It was a slow process with some mistakes; NASA said that's to be expected in a space debut.

During the next few days, the two crew members hope to unlock, open and close a small door out in the cargo bay using the jointed, remote-controlled arm, which has three so-called fingers. They also will try to loosen bolts with the device and lift a 1 1/2-foot box.

It's a prototype of what the Japanese space agency hopes to fly on the planned international space station.

Shuttle commander Curtis Brown Jr. said such a tool could reach small payloads outside the space station and bring them inside, eliminating the need for a time-consuming spacewalk by astronauts.

It looks more like an arm than Discovery's hulking robot arm, a 50-foot crane capable of lifting up to 65,000 pounds. That arm dropped off the ozone-monitoring satellite just hours after Discovery blasted into orbit Thursday.

After several hours of testing, the telescopes on the satellite began measuring chemicals and other components of the atmosphere, including those believed responsible for ozone depletion.

NASA launched two small rockets from Wallops Island, Va., and one from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on Friday as the satellite soared 184 miles above each site. Instruments on the rockets as well as a soaring weather balloon scanned the same chunk of sky as the satellite.

By the time the astronauts retrieve the satellite next Saturday for the trip home, NASA and the German space agency hope to have launched 66 small rockets and balloons as part of this ozone study.

The German-built satellite, called Crista, flew no more than 45 miles behind Discovery, close enough for communication between the craft.

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