Guest blog from Boston-based astronomers Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre about a firsthand experience with a member of the STS-133 Discovery crew:
That’s the vision behind Robonaut 2, NASA’s first human-like robotic astronaut, which is set to launch into space aboard the space shuttle Discovery this Thursday, February 24, at 4:50 p.m. EST from Launch Pad 39A on Cape Canaveral, Florida.
A joint project of NASA and General Motors, the $2.5-million robot — fondly called R2 — is designed to assist human astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Although its primary task on this flight is to demonstrate to engineers how humanoid robots behave in space, hopefully, through upgrades, R2 will someday venture outside the space station and help spacewalkers perform routine maintenance and emergency repair work, and even conduct scientific observations.
R2 was scheduled to be delivered to the space station last November by the six-member crew of Discovery during its 11-day STS-133 mission, along with the station’s supplies, spare parts, the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module, and the Express Logistics Carrier 4, an external platform that will hold large equipment. However, a hydrogen fuel leak in the shuttle’s 15-story external fuel tank as well as cracks in the tank’s support structure and foam insulation forced a 3½-month delay in Discovery’s launch so it could undergo critical repairs.
At one point, the robot showed its strength and endurance by effortlessly picking up a 20-pound barbell and holding the weight steady with its arm fully extended, as a young male volunteer from the robotics team struggled to keep up.
It was amazing to see the robot in action! R2 really impressed everyone with the human-like movement of its arms and fingers. It’s science fiction turned to reality. All the robot needs now is a voice so it can communicate verbally and a pair of legs for added mobility.
Robonaut 2 measures 3⅓ feet from waist to head and weighs 330 pounds. It is made primarily of aluminum with steel and nonmetallic components, and has 38 Power PC processors and more than 350 sensors. There are no plans to bring R2 home. It will become a permanent resident of the space station.
For more information about R2, go to http://robonaut.jsc.nasa.gov/default.asp.
For more information on STS-133, Discovery’s final mission, check out the Astronomy.com News page.