NASA's Robonaut 2, a humanoid astronaut assistant ,is primed and ready for launch aboard space shuttle Discovery in February on the STS-133 mission as the first humanoid robot to travel to the International Space Station and work in space. He's flying up head first; R2's legs will follow on a later launch.
"The robot's legs aren't ready yet," said Rob Ambrose of NASA's Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas. "We're still testing them. But there will be plenty for R2 to do while waiting for its lower extremities."
R2 primary task will be to help the astronauts with extravehicular activity (EVAs). "For its first training sessions, R2 will be placed on a fixed pedestal for lessons on a task board. The board has switches, knobs, and connectors like the ones astronauts operate, and the crew will mock up chores for R2 to master."
"Much like those of us down here on Earth, space station astronauts spend their Saturday mornings cleaning. R2's legs will give the crew their Saturday mornings back! It's all about making efficient use of the astronauts' time. They don't need to waste time doing simple stuff R2 can do."
The legs have special toes that plug into the space station walls so R2 can learn to climb without using its hands. "The hands must be free to carry cleaning supplies and tools," explained Ambrose. "R2 will practice indoors first because if it falls off inside an astronaut can pick it back up for another try. With a misstep outside, R2 could end up dangling helplessly out in space on a tether."
A new computer upgraded with software enhancements will be sent to station once the climbing skills have been mastered. The crew will exchange it with the one now in the R2's chest. The ground team is also working on a battery for R2, as it currently derives its power from a wall socket.
R2 will be then be able to set up EVA worksites. R2 has ‘eyes’ (two video cameras that give it three-dimensional vision) for viewing an external worksite before the crew heads out to tackle a job.
"If the crew sees a need for certain tools or for 'fine tuning' the work station, they can direct R2 to make the changes and lay it out just like they like it,” said Ambrose. “The crew can then come in and do the job quickly, and complete multiple jobs in less time. It can get outside in a hurry to check out a problem. Astronauts have to suit up and then depressurise in the airlock for hours before venturing out,” said Ambrose.
While they're depressurising, the crew can view the problem through R2's ‘eyes’ and determine the approach and tools they'll need to resolve the emergency.
"There are so many possibilities for the future," said Ambrose. "For instance, we could add wheels so R2 could scout a potential landing site on a planet or an asteroid or set up a workstation or habitat there. Someday R2 may even get a jetpack! But we have to crawl before we can fly."
The Daily Galaxy via NASA