Shuttle Astronauts Unpack Giant Robot

After linking up with the international space station, Endeavour's astronauts got right to work Thursday unloading the parts they'll need to build a giant robot that will help maintain the orbiting outpost.

Astronauts Robert Behnken and Gregory Johnson were using the station's robotic arm to pull a pallet containing the Canadian robot, named Dextre, from Endeavour's cargo bay and install it temporarily on a station girder.

Dextre — short for dexterous and pronounced like Dexter — is designed to assist spacewalking astronauts and, ultimately, to take over some of their dangerous outdoor work.

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Spacewalkers Richard Linnehan and Garrett Reisman will begin assembling the robot late Thursday night during the first of five outings planned for Endeavour's busy 16-day mission.

Before pulling up to the space station, Endeavour's commander, Dominic Gorie, guided the shuttle through a 360-degree backflip to allow for full photographic surveillance.

It's one of the many safety-related procedures put in place following the Columbia tragedy in 2003.

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The space station crew used cameras with high-powered zoom lenses to photograph Endeavour from nose to tail, especially all the thermal tiles on its belly.

The pictures — as many as 300 — will be scrutinized by engineers on the ground to see whether the shuttle suffered any damage during Tuesday's launch and ascent.

The crew had already used a 100-foot laser-tipped boom to inspect Endeavour's wings and nose, and flight director Mike Moses said engineers haven't spotted any problems.

"Everything looked really good," he said.

In fact, he said, engineers were able to determine that whatever appeared to have struck Endeavour's nose nine or 10 seconds after liftoff actually missed the ship.

It will take several days for NASA to analyze all the data and determine whether Endeavour will be able to re-enter safely at the end of its 16-day flight, the longest space station mission ever by a shuttle.

The shuttle's seven astronauts exchanged hugs and handshakes with space station commander Peggy Whitson and her two-man crew after the hatches between the two ships were opened.

"You guys look marvelous," Mission Control radioed the joint crew, as Gorie and Whitson hugged.

After a quick safety briefing, the crew got right to work unloading Dextre and preparing for the upcoming spacewalk.

Reisman also formally exchanged spacecraft seats with Leopold Eyharts, making him an official member of the space station crew.

Eyharts will return to Earth aboard Endeavour after spending a little over a month on the station. Reisman is set to return to Earth in June.

In addition to the Canadian robot, Endeavour also delivered the first piece of Japan's new space station lab, Kibo, which is Japanese for "hope."

The storage compartment will be attached to the orbiting complex on Friday; it's a temporary location until the lab arrives in May.

Endeavour's seven astronauts began their day Wednesday with an invigorating wake-up call from Mission Control: a loud mix of rock 'n' roll music with the refrain, "Go, go Godzilla."

It was dedicated to the crew's Japanese engineer, Takao Doi.

['s classic-rock experts think the song must be Blue Öyster Cult's "Godzilla."]