Robonaut to be launched on the Discovery space shuttle


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When space shuttle Discovery blasts into space next week, there will be an unusual passenger onboard.

A 300-pound humanoid robot named Robonaut 2, or R2, will hitch a ride along with the six astronauts who are making their way to the International Space Station.


With its gold helmet and shiny metallic visor, R2 looks a little like a toned-down Metroid from the popular Nintendo video game, but it’s solely made up of a torso, two arms and two five-fingered hands.

The idea is that R2 will be an astronaut’s assistant, helping out with routine tasks such as holding tools and vacuuming air filters.

“Initially, R2 will be deployed on a fixed pedestal inside” the space station, NASA said. “Next steps include a leg for climbing through the corridors of the space station.”

Once fully built, NASA envisions R2 assisting astronauts during space walks, lending a hand with mechanical fixes to the outside of the space station.

R2 was jointly developed and built by NASA and General Motors engineers at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. But some of engineering know-how and robotic innards came out of California locations, such as Malibu’s HRL Laboratories, Woodland’s JR3 Inc. and Santa Clara’s Cirexx International Inc.

If you’re interested, the folks out at NASA have established a Twitter account for R2, where it ruminates about all things space.


-- W.J. Hennigan

[Corrected: An earlier version of this post quoted a NASA spokeswoman saying that R2 might enable NASA to eliminate the astronaut’s space walks altogether. That was an error and NASA said it has no plans to end astronaut’s space walks.]