Space Daily reported on Monday that part of NASA’s strategy for exploring deep space will be to use humanoid robots, not only to prepare the way, but to assist human astronauts in exploring Mars, asteroids, and perhaps the moon. These robots will be able to perform repetitive tasks, such as building a habitat on a planetary surface in advance of human arrival. They would also act as scouts under the direction of human operators, exploring potentially dangerous territory before human astronauts follow. The space agency is doing some serious research and development to create these robot assistants in advance of sending humans beyond low Earth orbit.
“That’s why the agency is developing a six-feet tall humanoid robot called R5, previously known as Valkyrie. The machine weighs about 290 lbs., and what’s interesting, it was initially designed to complete disaster-relief maneuvers. In November 2015, NASA awarded two R5 robots to university groups competing in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge (DRC).
“One robot is tested by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts under its Robust Autonomy for Extreme Space Environments program. The second one is available for the Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts for its Accessible Testing on Humanoid-Robot-R5 and Evaluation of NASA Administered (ATHENA) Space Robotics Challenge. According to NASA, the teams have two years to perform research and software development to improve the robot’s autonomy.
“They will be also receiving $250,000 a year for two years and have access to onsite and virtual technical support from the agency. Moreover, the robots will compete in a Space Robotics Challenge through NASA’s Centennial Challenge Program.”
NASA has already deployed a robot on the International Space Station, known as R2, to perform tasks such as flipping switches and turning dials. It has also worked with a number of tools, including the air flow meter and an RFID inventory scanner. A more advanced version of the R2 could be used for maintenance and repair work, including performing EVAs now done by humans.
Several years ago, NASA’s Johnson Spaceflight Center proposed Project M, which would have landed a humanoid robot on the lunar surface. The project never got off the ground, but part of it, a lunar and planetary lander, eventually became Project Morpheus, which has successfully completed a number of tests both at JSC and the Kennedy Space Center,