by Dr. Ken Kremer, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Two of the world’s most advanced robots have invaded the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) as NASA prepares to launch Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-133 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). These robots are friendly to earthlings – at least for now.
The twin brother of Robonaut 2 – known as R2A – was standing guard at the KSC press site adjacent to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where I had the unique pleasure to meet him for an outdoors encounter. R2A was gazing intensely at Launch Pad 39 A and shuttle Discovery where his sibling – Robonaut 2 – is set to meet his destiny and become the first humanoid robot in space. R2A is virtually identical to Robonaut 2.
The launch of Discovery on her final flight has been reset to no earlier than Dec. 17 after a hydrogen fuel leak delayed the blastoff. Robonaut 2, also known as R2 or R2B, is stowed inside the “Leonardo” Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) which is the primary cargo loaded inside the shuttle’s payload bay.
R2 will be stationed inside the US built Destiny science research laboratory as a robotic assistant. It will work together shoulder to shoulder with the ISS crew in space.
R2 will make history by becoming an official member of the ISS crew and the first non-human member to boot. The goal is to demonstrate how dexterous robots can operate in the zero g environment of space and how they can work to contribute to the maintenance and scientific output of the ISS.
R2 is the most dexterously advanced robot on Earth. When R2 boards the station, the ISS will become the most advanced robotics lab in human history and serve as an ideal test bed for humans and robots working together to build a future of exploration and discovery.
“The chance to fly our robot to the ISS was a dream come true,” Ron Diftler told me in an interview at KSC. Diftler is NASA’s R2 project manager at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. “The human form is intentional and we hope it should help to motivate kids to study science.”
“We hope that one day, after further upgrades and the addition of a lower body and legs that R2 will even be able to venture outside and conduct EVAs to assist spacewalking astronauts,” Diftler added.
R2 weighs some 300 pounds and was manufactured from nickel-plated carbon fiber and aluminum. It is equipped with human like arms and hands as well as four visible light cameras that provide stereo vision.
The robot was developed in collaboration with GM. “NASA and GM pooled their resources and R2 was unveiled in February 2010,” according to Susan Smyth, GM Director of Research and Development. “With R2 we will demonstrate ground breaking technology that will also have real world applications as GM works to build better and safer cars.”
The key point is that R2 can accomplish real work with incredibly dexterous hands and an opposable thumb as I witnessed in a live action demonstration at KSC.
R2A will be watching his twin brother’s blast off to space live from KSC. Look here for more details about Robonaut: http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=1473
Astronomy Outreach by Ken Kremer
Gloucester County College Astronomy Club: Sewell, NJ, Dec 7, 7:30 PM.
“The Last Journey of Shuttle Discovery.”
Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton: Princeton, NJ, Jan 11, 8 PM
“Whats Beyond for NASA: Shuttle, Station, Orion, SpaceX”. I’ll speak about my up close experiences at KSC and at Cape Canaveral with R2, the Shuttle, Orion and SpaceX. Website: http://www.princetonastronomy.org/
Ken Kremer: Spaceflight Magazine & The Planetary Society
Please contact me for more info or science outreach presentations at kremerken at yahoo.com or my website: www.kenkremer.com