NASA to Send Humanoid Robot to the Moon

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According to an announcement by NASA officials this week, a humanoid robot will land on the moon within the next three years.

Robonaut 2 (R2) is promoted as being a considerably less expensive space farer than a human astronaut who would cost an estimated $150 billion to make a similar mission. As a price comparison, the announcement detailed that a space shuttle mission costs upwards of $250 million, while only $200 million would be needed to fund the Robonaut 2’s flight to the moon.

The R2 unit is scheduled to board the next Discovery space shuttle flight, which was originally slated to launch this past Thursday but has now been delayed until later this month due to a variety of mechanical issues.

When that launch does occur, it will carry the Robonaut 2 to a rendezvous with the International Space Station where it will become the first robot to fly into space and join Canada’s robotic Mobile Servicing System (MSS). Best known for its primary component, the mechanical Canadarm2, the MSS was designed and manufactured by MDA Space Missions for the Canadian Space Agency’s contribution to the International Space Station.

Although Robonaut2 will be the first humanoid robot to visit the space station, Canada delivered the 12-foot tall robot Dextre (pronounced “Dexter”) there in March of 2008.

After being put together by astronauts at the station, the Canadian robot undertook high-risk activities that would otherwise require a space walk, such as changing out components that require routine replacement.  Dextre’s 11 foot long arms, each with seven joints, allows it to position his gripping hands and built-in socket wrenches in a variety of difficult to reach places.

The newer Robonaut2 robot was designed and created by NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and replaces the inferior R1 uni which was a preliminary design partly funded by General Motors that is less flexible and competent than the Robonaut 2.

NASA has described this project as being aimed to build machines that can help humans work and explore in space, where these robots will be “working side by side with humans, or going where the risks are too great for people.”

The R2 robot is currently a legless unit that will be positioned on a heavy base when it arrives at the International Space Station. NASA reports that a plan is in place to construct a 4-wheel trolley to become the lower half of Robonaut 2 in conjunction with additional limbs to assist in navigating the space station’s walkways.

NASA announced that it is confident that the R2 robot will become “the first dexterous humanoid robot in space, and the first U.S.-built robot on the space station.”

“That will be just one small step for a robot and one giant leap for robot-kind.”

For more information, visit NASA’s Robonaut website.

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