Nation

Spacewalkers install new hand on station’s robot arm

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Spacewalking astronauts gave the International Space Station’s big robot arm a new hand Thursday.

Commander Randy Bresnik and Mark Vande Hei accomplished the job on the first of three NASA spacewalks planned over the next two weeks.

‘‘One down, two to go,’’ Bresnik said as the seven-hour spacewalk came to a close. The pair will go back out Tuesday to lubricate the new arm attachment.

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The latching mechanism on one end of the 58-foot robot arm malfunctioned in August. It needed to be replaced before the arrival of an Orbital ATK supply ship in November.

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Hustling through their work, the spacewalkers unbolted the old mechanism and promptly installed the spare. Initial testing by ground controllers indicated success.

This bulky bundle of latches — more than 3 feet long — is used to grab visiting spacecraft, and provides power and data. The arm can also move like an inchworm across the space station by grabbing onto special fixtures.

The Canadian-built arm has been in orbit for 16 years. Engineers attribute the recent trouble to wear and tear.