Astronauts debuted the international space station's newest piece of equipment Saturday during a successful but very limited test. Space shuttle Discovery crew members Akihiko Hoshide and Karen Nyberg moved two of the six joints on the Japanese Kibo lab's robotic arm for the first time, maneuvering them very slightly with a series of commands. "The very first maneuver was completed successfully," Hoshide told Japanese flight controllers near Tokyo.
Full deployment of the 33-foot arm will be done after Discovery leaves the station next week. However, it won't be used for any actual work until after the launch into orbit next year of the billion-dollar lab's third and final section — a "porch" for exterior experiments — and a second, smaller robotic arm.
After he and Nyberg finished testing the robotic arm, Hoshide reflected on what Kibo means for Japan. "It's a big milestone. We have our own house here now," Hoshide said during a series of media interviews.
Problem interrupts Mars lander's task
The first sample of Martian dirt dumped onto the opening of the Phoenix lander's tiny testing oven failed to reach the instrument and scientists said Saturday they will devote a few days to trying to determine the cause.
Photos released by the University of Arizona team overseeing the mission showed a scoopful of dirt sitting on and around the open oven door after being dumped by the craft's 8-foot robot arm. But none of it made it past a screen and into the tiny chamber, one of eight on the craft designed to heat soil and test gasses for signs of water or organic compounds that could be building blocks for life.
Nothing seems to be wrong with the dirt delivery by the lander's robot arm, said William Boynton of the University of Arizona in Tucson, who is overseeing the oven experiments. The dirt landed properly and instruments show a vibrator on the screen designed to help shake soil into the chamber was working. However, an electronic eye positioned to detect dirt falling into the chamber didn't report any particles.