Robonaut activated on the International Space Station

by Andrew Moir

The promised future looked like it might never arrive. The evolution of the space age suggested that everything would float for no reason and we would have chirpy robot servants. Now perhaps that future has come a little closer as NASA activates Robonaut 2- so called because it’s a robot and an astronaut. You get it?

While NASA has used robots before in the form of rovers or arms, this is the first with a humanoid appearance. Robonaut 2 (R2) was delivered during the final mission of The Space Shuttle discovery in February but the scientists have been too busy with ongoing projects to power up the machine.

The initial two-hour test took place on Monday when U.S. astronaut Michael Fossum and Japanese spaceman Satoshi Furukawa removed Robonaut from its sleeping bag and placed it on its fixed pedestal. The majority of testing was then done by controllers on the ground. The robot went back into its bag following the test. R2 remained stationary throughout but motion tests will begin in September.

R2 is currently just a torso, head and arms and stands at 3 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 330 pounds. It is set to gain legs in 2013 but can also operate on the 4-wheeled Centaur 2 base.

The initial phase will involve testing the machine within the Destiny lab aboard the ISS but it is hoped that upgrades will allow it to perform some maintenance tasks such vacuuming and cleaning air filters. Ultimately it is hoped that it will be able to perform more dangerous assignments such as space walks.

Since activation R2 has joined Twitter and has clearly captured the public imagination with around 40,000 followers already. R2 shared:

Those electrons feel GOOD! One small step for man, one giant leap for tinman kind

The tweets come courtesy of Joe Bibby, a NASA multimedia specialist at the Johnson Space Center who has been answering the many questions posed for the robot.

Robonaut has been developed by Nasa alongside General Motors with assistance from Oceaneering Space Systems engineers.

Does Robonaut represent an exciting future? Are machines taking over? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

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