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Robot Astronaut Unpacked Aboard The Space Station

March 17, 2011

Astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) enjoyed a bit of fun as they unpacked Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot ever launched into space, after its arrival via shuttle Discovery.

American Catherine Coleman and Italian Paolo Nespoli opened the lid of the packing box, as though they were opening a coffin. TV cameras revealed foam inside, but no robot, AP is reporting.

A payload controller at Marshall Space Flight Center radioed, “It’s like unearthing a mummy.”

“Well, at least the mummy would be here,” Coleman replied. “We just have an empty box where Robonaut is supposed to be.” Robonaut 2, known on-board the ISS as R2, was then seen moving into position in front of a work station on the ISS.

The on-board humanoid robot will let engineers understand how humanoid robots behave in close proximity to human workers on the station. NASA hopes to one day allow the robot to venture outside the station lending a hand making repairs or additions to the exterior of the ISS, NASA reports.

Coleman continued with the televised debut, “I’d like to introduce you to the newest member of our crew. We’re going to see what Robonaut can do.”

The payload controller then asked if R2 was related to HAL, the sinister computer with artificial intelligence from the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“Since we found him already controlling the space station, we’re sure that he is related to HAL. But we’ll see,” Coleman said.

R2, for now only an upper torso with arms and a head, was then attached to a fixed pedestal, where it will remain until testing begins in May. The robotic team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center will then run tests to see how R2 performs in weightlessness. Legs for Robonaut 2 are expected to arrive next year on a future ISS resupply mission, AP reports.

Image Caption: Robonaut 2, the dexterous humanoid astronaut helper, is pictured in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station.

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