Meet NASA's first humanoid robot, now in space

NASA's Robonaut 2 is on Discovery Space Shuttle to do its dirty work, literally. And he'll be tweeting about it!

Published February 24, 2011 11:25PM (EST)

Robonaut 2 -- or R2 for short-- entered Earth's orbit aboard Space Shuttle Discovery just a few minutes ago making it the first humanoid robot to serve with NASA astronauts. R2 is 3-feet 4-inches from the waste up, weighs a hefty yet toned 330 pounds and with no lower half is conveniently androgynous.

Though similar in name to the trashcan-shaped R2D2 from Star Wars, R2 is much more advanced and eloquent. In fact, R2 tweeted the recent shuttle launch with a sense of humor:


Built by General Motors R2 bears a striking resemblance to its fellow astronaut coworkers -- above the torso, that is. NASA was clearly strategic in this design, as only the torso upward will be shipped on this first mission. R2 will work from a pedestal to acclimate to zero gravity conditions before being rejoined with its lower extremities after Discovery lands back on Earth. (The legs aren’t quite ready yet, says NASA’s Rob Ambrose.)

So what exactly is R2’s job description?

Well, what does every kid want a robot for?  To do chores.

Rob Ambrose describes R2’s first duties-in-training:

"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. Remember, robots don't have pockets to put things in."

Once he's proved a worthy Astronaut-slave, efficient at vacuuming air filters and wiping handrails, R2 will be promoted to do the more dangerous jobs aboard a space shuttle. Because it can stay outside for an indefinite period of time and has video cameras for eyes, R2 will be able to take over risky jobs for the astronauts.

By Amy Steinberg

Amy Steinberg is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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