Robot astronaut powered up for first time in space

The first robot member of the International Space Station crew woke up yesterday, six months after its arrival.

Robonaut 2 arrived there on Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS-133 mission in February, but this is the first chance the station crew have had to fire it up.

The robot has a head and torso, with two hands and arms – but no legs, although there are plans to kit it out with some in 2013. It measures three feet four inches tall and weighs 330 pounds.

On Monday, mission specialists Mike Fossum and Satoshi Furukawa hooked R2 up inside the Destiny laboratory, and teams on the ground sent power to the robot for the first time in space.

The power was left on for more than two hours, giving engineers on the ground a chance to check that its wiring and internal connections were all functioning as they should – particularly in the station’s microgravity, as the way heat builds up and dissipates at the station is hard to replicate on the ground.

“Everything came alive,” says Nic Radford, Robonaut deputy project manager. “We started getting video out of Robonaut’s eyes. Everything worked exactly as we expected it to. It was a very, very exciting time.”

Engineers can now begin putting Robonaut 2 through its paces. It’ll be turned on again on September 1, so that commands to move its arms and hands can be sent from the ground.

If all continues to go well, says the team, the robot could begin helping out with simple station tasks next year. Because of it’s humanoid design, it can use the same tools as human crew members.