May 3, 2010
So we thought the last of NASA’s rookie astronauts had flown, leaving only veterans on the final few space shuttle flights.
Not so fast.
One last rookie will be on board space shuttle Discovery when it blasts off in September for the STS-133 mission.
After years languishing as a laboratory-only project, the Johnson Space Center’s mechanical astronaut Robonaut has finally been called up. Robonaut 2, as the current model is called, is scheduled to take up permanent residence on the space station, where it will be used to test the practicality of anthropomorphic robots working alongside humans. It will be operated from laptops on the station and on the ground, and at first will be anchored in one spot in the Destiny laboratory. But eventually R2′s creators want to send the mechanical man out on a spacewalk.
The project’s deputy manager gives this rundown:
R2 will join the Dextre humanoid robot, which is already installed on the station, where it handles outside jobs. If you think such machines have no place in future space exploration, talk to the Japanese, who reportedly are mulling a humanoid robot to land on the moon. Most lunar robot concepts still use wheeled rovers, but the idea of a mechanical Neil Armstrong no longer seems far-fetched, not when you see the kind of progress that companies like Boston Dynamics are making in simulating natural walking: