As long as I can remember, one of the staples of science-fiction movies and television shows has been the existence of robots. You would always find them in the show, either helping the crew as they labored, or working to eliminate them all. The most notable example in recent history has been the Cylons in both versions of “Battlestar Galactica” and its prequel, “Caprica.”
This week, in a case of science-fiction meets real world, the crew of Space Shuttle Discovery took a new member of the crew of the International Space Station into orbit who will become a permanent member of the various expeditions which will man the station. That new crew member is Robonaut 2, who is called R2 for short.
R2 is the first humanoid robot to be flown in space. It lifted off from Earth aboard Discovery, packed away in the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module for the flight. On Tuesday, Leonardo was attached to the ISS, giving it more storage space, and delivering of R2 and a load of supplies for the station.
According to NASA, it will be several months before R2 is unpacked. Once that is done, he will be quartered in the Unity module of the station. Once put into service, R2 will be working in the Destiny laboratory module, testing out how he functions in zero gravity for the time being. Once that is done, his duties and operational area on the station will possibly be increased.
In the future, it is hoped that R2 can perform tests for future crews that are deemed too dangerous for human crew members to perform. It is also hoped that ultimately, R2 can venture outside of the ISS to assist crew members during spacewalks to work on the ISS and perform experiments.
While he is called R2, the robonaut is more comparable to C-3P0 in that he does clamps as some robots have in the past. This robonaut is a dexterous humanoid robot, with hands that can grip and operate some EVA tools. When installed in the Unity module, he will be on a fixed stand for the time being. Future upgrades will include legs for moving around that ISS and, possibly, outside it in the future. R2 is the result of a joint project by NASA and General Motors. R2 has his own webpage, Facebook, and Twitter account for those who want to follow the exploits of the first Robonaut in space.
There is only one bit a bad news for R2. This will be a one way trip for him as there are no plans, at this time, for returning him to Earth.
This is an incredibly exciting time with the development of this new ISS crew member, as the possibilities for it and the additional things that can be accomplished are incredible. Once again, we are privileged to see science-fiction become real world reality.
However, I do offer one bit of advice to current and future members of ISS crews. If you give R2 a command and it turns to you and says, “By your command,” be afraid…be very afraid!
Better yet, if that happens, be somewhere else … quickly!