A Small Step for a Robot, A Great Leap for Space Travel?
What’s the Big Idea?
Robonaut is literally ascending its stairway to the moon in baby steps. Robonaut, aka R2, the first humanoid robot in space, was delivered to the International Space station on space shuttle Discovery’s final flight this past February, and finally powered up this week. “Sure wish I could move my head and look around,” Robonaut said in the tweet. (You can follow Robonaut’s progress on Twitter here: @Robonaut)
Sorry, R2, but that won’t happen until next week, when the robot will finally get to wiggle its fingers and move its arms and hands. R2 will still not be able to walk, as its legs are currently being designed and will not be attached to its torso until 2013.
And yet, who needs legs when you have a Centaur rover (above) as your whip? An improved set of wheels–developed by GM and NASA, called the Centaur 2 was produced in 2010 and features prospecting censors, excavation implants,and devices for converting planetary materials into usable products.
What’s the Significance?
While Robonaut may take a while to get its space legs, it is considerably cheaper than a human astronaut. And cheaper is the name of the game in 21st century space exploration. While the U.S. space program has its sights on landing on an asteroid, and making an eventual Mars landing, a permanent robot presence may be the most feasible option for future lunar exploration.
That is still a long way off, as the goal right now is for R2 to fulfill the mission it was primarily designed for–to serve as a human assistant, as explained in the video below.