Astronomy Cast Ep. 449: Robots in Space!

When you think of a robot, you’re probably imagining some kind of human-shaped machine. And until now, the robotic spacecraft we’ve sent out into space to help us explore the Solar System look nothing like that. But that vision of robots is coming back, thanks to a few new robots in development by NASA and other groups.

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NASA Robot Runs Into Snag After It’s Unpacked On Space Station

Robonaut 2
An example of some of the tasks Robonaut 2 can perform. Credit: NASA

We’re all a little scared (in the impressed-with-technology sense!) of Robonaut, that robot on the International Space Station that is expected to start using legs to move around in the next few months. Eventually, it could even do repairs on the outside — saving astronauts time and keeping them safer.

This fun timelapse video shows Expedition 42 astronaut Terry Virts taking the robot out from what looks like a suitcase on the wall. After he set up Robonaut, however, the machine ran into a few problems.

“The ground teams deployed software and received telemetry from Robonaut. However, [they] were unable to obtain the commanded leg movement that was planned for the day. Ground teams are assessing a forward plan,” NASA wrote in the last ISS update concerning the robot, in mid-December.

While the astronauts patiently wait, they have been posting a few fun tweets about the robot in recent days. Check out what they’ve been saying below.

First Humanoid to Human Handshake in Space

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata plays around wiith humanoid robot Robonaut 2 during Expedition 39 in March 2014. Credit: NASA

It may have been a giant leap for robot-kind yesterday as NASA’s Robonaut shook hands in space with Expedition 30 Commander Dan Burbank on the International Space Station. “For the record, it was a firm handshake,” Burbank said. “Very nice. Nice job on the programming and all the engineering. Quite an impressive robot.”

Not only did the robot complete the historic first humanoid to human handshake in space, but Robonaut also sent its greetings to everyone on Earth by using sign language to say, “Hello World.”

Robonaut is designed to perform routine maintenance tasks aboard the space station to free up the astronauts for more important research tasks. You can see more capabilities of Robonaut in a video below where engineers put one of the Robonauts through its paces on a task board that mimics controls aboard the ISS.
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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.
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