June 7, 2020

02.03.11: Rise of the Robonauts.

The International Space Station (ISS) has a new permanent resident, one that will assist astronauts and become a valued member of the space station team. Robonaut 2 (R2) arrived at the ISS this week, delivered by STS-133 on the final flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Initially, Robonaut 2 will be a stationary resident, to be installed in the Unity Node until it can perform more complex mobile tasks.

Eventually, however, Robonaut 2 will be able to free astronauts from routine and often mundane cleaning and maintenance tasks. A joint project between General Motors and NASA, Robonaut and his brethren may soon populate the solar system in the form of robo-butlers such as R2, spacewalking assistants, and centaur-like, half robot, half planetary rovers such as those pictured above. And heck, robots are just plain cool, right? No space-borne Sci-Fi flick is complete without em, evil or no…we particularly like how R2 has the C3P0-like permanent look of curiosity frozen into its façade.

And of course, Robonaut is tweeting as @AstroRobonaut. And think of the photo ops… We’re waiting for the first pic of someone playing chess with R2 aboard the ISS ala HAL 9000, or an upgraded R2 someday peering inward as seen from the cupola. A torso now, Robonaut will eventually be upgraded with legs and voice communication capability. Currently R2 runs 350 sensors on 38PowerPC processors. Largely immune to radiation and not requiring food and air like us carbon based water bags, robots will find applications in space to work in environments were humans can’t, or at least until they become unionized. The current installation of R2 is merely an integration test bed for the project, but doubtless more innovative applications for a robot butler will come up. And if that isn’t strange enough, the Japanese already have a proposal for a human-like robotic companion for the astronauts aboard the ISS, based on their robotic nurse:

All in all, it should be interesting to watch as Robonaut unfurls to become a member of the ISS family. The crew of Discovery is also installing the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module and the Express Logistic carrier 4 during its 11 day mission, and is slated for final touchdown on March 8th at 11:36AM EST having spent nearly a shuttle year in orbit, the most for any orbiter!


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