Space is about to get its first humanoid from planet Earth.
Robonaut 2 — known as R2 — is hitching a one-way ride to the International Space Station aboard the final flight of space shuttle Discovery, which is set to launch Wednesday.
It's the first humanoid robot ever bound for space, a $2.5 million mechanical and electrical marvel that NASA hopes one day will assist astronauts in orbit. Imagine, its creators say, a future where Robonaut could take over space station cleaning duties; hold tools for spacewalking astronauts; and handle emergencies like toxic leaks or fires. Robonaut's descendants could even scout out asteroids, Mars and other worlds in the future.
"While it might be just a single step for this robot, it's really a giant leap forward for tin mankind," said Rob Ambrose, acting chief of Johnson Space Center's automation, robotics and simulation division in Houston.
For now, R2 exists only from the waist up. It measures 3 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 330 pounds. Each arm is 2 feet 8 inches long. NASA hopes to send up legs in late 2011, followed a year later by a torso and computer enhancements enabling the robot to venture out on space walks.
The robot will remain tucked away at the space station until late December. Then NASA plans a series of tests to see how Robonaut operates in weightlessness atop a fixed pedestal.