Robonaut Getting Ready for ISS Mission

NASA’s Robonaut 2 will be the first human-like robot to go to space, and teams from Johnson Space Center have been putting “R2” through a battery of tests to make sure this futuristic robot is ready for its first mission. R2 will become a permanent resident of the International Space Station, and will launch on space shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-133 mission, currently planned for November 1, 2010.

The 136 kg (300-pound) R2 consists of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. R2 Once aboard the station, engineers will monitor how the robot operates in weightlessness. R2 is undergoing extensive testing in preparation for its flight, including vibration, vacuum and radiation testing. Watch the video for more information on how R2 operates.

While R2 has been in the works for awhile, it also is part of Project M — a project with the very ambitious goal of putting a humanoid robot on the moon in 1,000 days. This project was only initiated in the fall of 2009, and was started by a group of JSC engineers who more or less took matters into their own hands in order to get the Moon. Read a great post from the project manager, Matt Ondler about the history and philosophy of Project M

13 Replies to “Robonaut Getting Ready for ISS Mission”

  1. The robot is called ‘R-2’ but it looks more like C3P0, how ironic.

    Seriously though, this is really cool, I can’t wait until that robot is on the ISS!

  2. This is a pretty showpiece, but is really very far from any useful application. The current state of robotics, and humanoid robotics in particular, is still very primitive and not capable of much.

    A while back there was talk about a hovering workstation that was commandable to some degree – for the purpose of performing useful tasks, this would have been a much more sensible approach.

    Given that there are only two Shuttle flights remaining, I don’t see the reason to take up space with this.

  3. This is the equivalent of developing a mechanic horse when what you need is a car.

    I did the Level 9 tour at Houston Space Center and they were testing these silly robot torsos.

    When I asked the guide “Why cant you make a robot with a useful geometry?” there was only an uncomfortable shrug for an answer.

    This is most likely a kindergarten dream pet project from someone at NASA. Total waste of money.

  4. I would not characterize this as a waste. This is a prototype robotic system, which is set work in close association with the ISS crew. This will provide a working set of data for solving further problems with robotics in space . A more advanced version of this robot (R2 that looks more like C3) may in a decade be working on the moon or servicing systems at Lagrange points.

    The entire ISS is largely a questionable program, which could be characterized as a money sink. However, it might manage to accomplish a few things, where maybe it is a testbed for a robotic future in space. If so then the ISS is a little more than a great gymnasium for astronaut stunts.


  5. I think merely by existing the ISS has shown that an engineering and construction project of this size can be accomplished without much hassle. But I suppose that was not hard to extrapolate from the construction of the smaller Mir, module by module.

    From a visual, eye candy point of view, the ISS definitely makes for good photography. After seeing space complexes in sci-fi movies, there is now something up there that comes close to the fictional ones, at least visually. Looks even better with the shuttle docked with several soyuzes hanging off o it.

    I think the ISS needs to go more international by having more astronauts from other countries spending time in it. Even if it’s for a few weeks. It would mean more customers for Russia. I’m sure the Chinese want to go their own way and construct their own station, but it would be good experience to launch and dock their own vehicle at the ISS and have their astronauts spend time on it.

  6. To all the space station detractors: How else are we supposed to get the experience at living and working in space without a long term facility like the ISS? For human exploration to get to any objectives further than Mars we will need to start constructing our spacecraft in orbit. Experience with the ISS is critical in understanding the actual dynamics of structures in space as well as developing efficient protocols for tool usage, construction plan generation and whatnot. Whoever thinks that the astronauts are being sent up there for a vacation is dead wrong, they work hard and are pushing the envelope just by being there.

  7. The ISS is really more about politics and foreign policy than it is about science. In fact this has been the case with the manned space program since its inception. The Kennedy inspired lunar program was far more an aspect of the cold war than it was to do lunar geology and science. It was to demonstrate the supremacy of American technology over the Soviet’s. The shuttle program initially had a large DOD mission to it, though the Defense Department backed away later on. It also served as an ambassadorial effort where the US could loft astronauts from other nations into space. With the collapse of the USSR the space station was the next step in building a space based diplomatic system. This is not to cast a bad light on the ISS program for this, but it really is a $100+ billion program more meant to establish diplomatic channels more than it is to do science. With the end of the shuttle program the Russians are now the main conduit to the ISS and suggest that for the remainder of the program the US role may retreat away. The ISS is slated for atmospheric re-entry or demolition next decade.

    On balance the science which has come out of the manned space program is a minority element. The Hubble Space Telescope is probably the crown jewels of manned space science, taking up 5 missions — a small fraction of the total. Yet, the HST is really an unmanned program most of the time. The last Apollo space flight did some geology, and the lunar rocks returned continue to provide avenues of research.

    On balance the unmanned programs on a science-cost ratio have been far more productive. Robots in space do seem to be the next frontier, with rovers on Mars and the ISS maybe as a test bed for the R2.


  8. As for science any individual technology development or exploration program is “a questionable program”, because without an immediate ROI against a market you have no measure to use. They can all be dismissed as “FAIL” if you so choose – they spend money. Which is why I find it ironic that science sites may judge the later two development areas differently than the first.

    This goes for robotics too. Some of the reasons to make human robots for space are that they must interact with humans and the environment as if they were humans.

    For one, the geometry of the human body is then adapted to the surroundings as well as understood by the humans that must interact without safety interlock volumes.

    For another, there are no experiments that can do what, say, well-trained geologists can do as regards mineralogy and paleontology (say, on Mars), so a universal geometry is beneficiary.

    As LBC notes, this is AFAIU a sustained robotics program and not a lark, which is now ready to be tested. Nice!

    Finally, humanoid robots are already capable of much significant work; they can fetch beer!

    No, really, Willow Garage’s open platform robot program _is_ significant; see how it solves problems that you wouldn’t necessary put humanoid robots to (fold towels, shoot pool), all on the open expansive platform. They promise to open up the robot world here on Earth as R2 in space, and have shipped out robots to universities to make it so. Robotics is fast becoming one of those areas to be in.

  9. I see big potential for this type of robot both in space and on Earth. For example a handicapped person could use the joystick to push his wheelchair around and take stuff out of the cupboards, prepare food, clan the house…

  10. The beer fetching robot is interesting, though this could make us all into fatter couch potatoes. Yet robotic applications in dangerous situations are clear. Robots could maintain solar power satellites, or astronomical instruments in space, or as now they are being used (remotely controlled bots) to work on the cap on the BP well. I suspect that automobiles will increasingly have more robotic elements, with some installed now, which may prevent some accidents or even over ride bad driving decisions.


  11. Practice, practice, practice… Robotics are a rapidly evolving science. This page recently mentioned how the Japanese are continuing to develop robotics to set up a lunar base. Cool beans!

    Then, a couple months back, this page had a link to a NASA YouTube presentation about an R2 looking derivative being launched to the moon and landing in a small capsule. The embedded animation showed the capsule opening after landing and a ‘R3’ emerging to take a look around. I really really liked that concept… the lander does not need life support systems, the robot folded in on itself to make for a smaller package and the animation demonstrated ‘telepresence’. I like!

    @Lawrence B. Crowell – “The ISS is really more about politics and foreign policy than it is about science.” I’d have to vote ‘yes’ and ‘no’ on this statement. There are plenty enough foreign policy issues, but now there are several dozen experiments in progress at any given time aboard the ISS, beyond ongoing human space endurance programs that is. I ESPECIALLY like the Russian plasma experiments and wonder why WE aren’t performing similar? ESA’s Columbus module and JAXA’s Kibo are filled to the brim with experimental science. The problem of proprietary rights somewhat stifles the public information flow on exactly what experiments are in progress… but I for one expect to see some results soon!

  12. “The robot is called ‘R-2’ but it looks more like C3P0, how ironic.”
    But with no legs.

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