Apparently upset by the total lack of giant space robots attacking Earth, NASA have decided to build their own. "Dextre" (pronounced "Dexter"), a ten meter wide remote-controlled megabot, will be attached to the side of the International Space Station over the next fortnight. The robot will be taken up in pieces next Tuesday then assembled over three spacewalks, in a job that makes even the most expensive Perfect Grade Gundam kit look snapping two Lego blocks together.
The makers haven't commented on why they named a giant robot system after a psychotic killer. It's not like they can claim they haven't seen the TV show - it's on the SciFi channel and they work for NASA, for God's sake. That's like an alcoholic exclaiming "What is this 'beer' substance you speak of?" Since they actually are rocket scientists they're probably justified in thinking they're smarter than regular folks, but they have to realise that even us regular non-astronauts can crack the "swapping the last two letters" code. What's next, pig latin? Will they be launching the "Manhu-nay Ingkill-nay" in the summer?
We don't have to worry about Dextre enslaving us all from orbit - it isn't exactly HAL9000 in the brains department. While its four meter long seven-jointed arms are massively intimidating in action, it can only use one at a time - to avoid the risk of accidentally bashing them off each other in what would simultaneously be the funniest, most expensive and highest-altitude piece of slapstick ever performed. Dextre will co-operate with the ISS's existing robot arm Canadarm2 (guess where it's from). Again, NASA insists that the risks of programming robots to co-operate are negligible.
There are non-mechanical-death based criticisms of the system, but they're not very valid. Astronaut Richard Linnehan insists that human astronauts can work more quickly and react faster than robots, but that's generally because they have to. Robots don't get fatigued, nor do they have to run crying back inside the shuttle because the cold hard vacuum of space "makes their lungs hurt". When you can sit in orbit all day every day you get a lot more done than people who need to sleep, eat and not freeze to death.
To begin with Dextre will have only a few tools compared to the hundreds available to his human hosts, but expect this to change. Working around the clock on repair tasks around the ISS he'll be advancing science in two ways - freeing up the astronauts to work on "actual experiments" rather than "fixing the things that keep them alive", and with every move he'll be teaching designers about the needs and potential of robots in space.
Posted by Luke McKinney
Dextre Robot http://www.space.gc.ca/asc/eng/iss/mss_spdm.asp
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