NASA trains humanoid robot for space station duty

NASA is preparing to launch the first human-like robot to space as part of the Discovery STS-133 mission planned for September. 

The 300-pound Robonaut 2, which was jointly developed by NASA and General Motors (GM), consists of a head, a torso, two arms and two hands.

R2 is expected to join another station robot, known as Dextre, which was built by the Canadian Space Agency. 

While Dextre is deployed along the station’s exterior, R2 will be confined to operations in the station’s Destiny laboratory. 

However, future modifications could allow the robot to move more freely around the station’s interior and outside the complex.

“The use of R2 on the space station is just the beginning of a quickening pace between human and robotic exploration of space,” explained John Olson, director of NASA’s Exploration Systems Integration Office.

“The partnership of humans and robots will be critical to opening up the solar system and will allow us to go farther and achieve more than we can probably even imagine today.”

Indeed, R2 not only appears human, but is designed to work like one. With human-like hands and arms, R2 is capable of operating the same tools that station crew members use. 

“In the future, the greatest benefit of humanoid robots in space may be as an assistant or stand-in for astronauts during spacewalks or for tasks too difficult or dangerous for humans,” said Olson.

“[But] for now, R2 is still a prototype and lacks adequate protection needed to exist outside the space station in the extreme temperatures of space. [Still], testing the robot inside the station will provide an important intermediate environment. R2 will be tested in zero gravity, as well as being subjected to the station’s radiation and electromagnetic interference environments.”