Historic Handshake

Photograph by Robert Markowitz and Bill Stafford

Astronauts of the future, meet your competition: When the space shuttle Discovery launches later today, Robonaut 2 (R2)-seen above on the left- will become the first humanoid robot in space.

R2 is bound for the International Space Station, and scientists will spend a year simply studying how well the robot moves in zero G.  Once mission managers are satisfied, the android will be assigned one of his first tasks: house cleaning.

To keep the crew healthy, astronauts on the ISS have to use disinfecting wipes on all handrails every week.  ”Jobs like that are really crummy for humans,” said Robert Ambrose, the Robonaut project leader at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas.  Fortunately for the ISS crew, R2 wasn’t programmed for snarky backtalk.

Besides, Ambrose said, “we’re designing [Robonaut] for EVA”- extravehicular activity, the NASA term for spacewalking- “and you can’t really hear your robot crack jokes in a vacuum.”



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