News / Science & Technology

Space Shuttle Discovery to Carry Robot on Final Mission

NASA workers walk near the external tank, rear, of the space shuttle Discovery at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, February 23, 2011
NASA workers walk near the external tank, rear, of the space shuttle Discovery at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, February 23, 2011

Crews at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida are preparing the Space Shuttle Discovery for its final launch, scheduled for Thursday.

Among the things it will carry to the International Space Station will be a humanlike robot designed to help astronauts aboard the station carry out several common tasks.  The device might pave the way for greater use of robotics in space exploration.

The Discovery crew will consist of six humans and one robot called "Robonaut 2."  It is not really a member of the crew; in fact it will be stowed away in the cargo compartment until Discovery links up with the space station.  But the The 120-kilogram robot does have a certain star quality.

It consists of a head that looks like a sleek metallic-looking helmet, a torso, two arms and two hands with fingers that operate much like human digits.

Robonaut Lead Mechanical Engineer Josh Mehling, who helped develop Robonaut 2 for NASA, says the arms and hands of the device exert the right force to hold, rather than crush, any item the robot picks up.

"Throughout the robot's arm, it has the ability to sense the forces it is exerting on the environment or the environment is exerting on it.  And the five-fingered hand also has tactile sensing throughout the finger sections, so it can feel what it is touching," he said.

Mehling says Robonaut 2 is capable of carrying out several tasks aboard the space station that otherwise would take up human astronaut time and energy. "The robot could be used to set up a work site for an astronaut or to tear down a work site or to just hold things for the astronaut.  Really, the goal  going forward is that a system like Robonaut could free up the astronauts to be doing the real hard science that requires the human brain in the loop," he said.

Robots have long been used in space exploration and in manufacturing back on Earth.  But the use of a robot that resembles a human being on the space station recalls the robots of science fiction books and movies, that often have human attributes.  One characteristic of humans is to relate to animals, plants and even mechanical devices as if they are humans, what psychologists call anthropomorphizing.

Josh Mehling says the Discovery crew had a chance to work with Robonaut 2 in the lab at the Johnson Space Center here in Houston and has, to some extent, bonded with it. "They enjoyed working with it and taking pictures with it.  They really sort of adopted Robonaut 2 as a part of their crew and, while I am not a social psychologist, I think the crews on the space station will enjoy the company of a humanoid robot," he said.

In addition to the robot, Discovery will carry a storage module and supplies to the space station.  The 11-day journey will be the 39th and final mission of the oldest space shuttle. iscovery was first launched in 1984 and has since flown close to 230 million kilometers. The shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis are scheduled to make their final flights later this year.

Related video report by Rosanne Skirble:

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs