Astronauts are about to get some help from Robonaut 2 in February. Robonaut 2, the latest generation of the Robonaut astronaut helpers, is set to launch to the space station aboard space shuttle Discovery on the STS-133 mission. It will be the first humanoid robot in space, and although its primary job for now is teaching engineers how dexterous robots behave in space, the hope is that through upgrades and advancements, it could one day venture outside the station to help spacewalkers make repairs or additions to the station or perform scientific work.
R2, as the robot is called, will launch inside the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module, which will be packed with supplies and equipment for the station and then installed permanently on the Unity node. R2 is so ready, in fact, that it’s going up ahead of its legs, which will follow on a later launch. Once the legs are added, the trainee will be able to move around inside the station, wiping handrails, vacuuming air filters, and doing other mundane tasks for the crew. R2 even has “eyes” (two video cameras that give it three-dimensional vision) for viewing an external worksite before the crew heads out to tackle a job. Also, R2 can stay outside working as long as necessary, while humans can stay only a limited time. R2 could scout a potential landing site on a planet or an asteroid or set up a workstation or habitat there.