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Robonaut 2 Gets its Space Legs

Thanks to a successful launch of the SpaceX-3 flight of the Falcon 9/Dragon capsule on Friday, April 18, the lower limbs for Robonaut 2 (R2) are aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Safely tucked inside the Dragon resupply vehicle, R2’s legs are to be attached by a station crew member to Robonaut’s torso already on the orbiting outpost.

Jointly developed by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations and Space Technology mission directorates in cooperation with General Motors, R2 showcases how a robotic assistant can work alongside humans, whether tasks are done in space or on Earth in a manufacturing facility.

The R2 now consists of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. With the addition of the newly developed climbing legs, the robot can augment its chief role: to help astronauts by taking over some of their duties on the space station.

Making use of toe-like fixtures—called “end effectors” that take the place of feet—R2 can use sockets and handrails to move about. With legs, the robot can lend a hand, or two, to the crew while secured to the station by at least one leg.

“We’ll go from being the first humanoid robot in space to being the first mobile humanoid robot in space,” said Ron Diftler, Robonaut Project Manager within the Robotic Systems Technology Branch at the NASA Johnson Space Center. “Being mobile significantly adds to our capability.”

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Also: Read a "Who's Who at NASA" Q&A with a Robonaut 2 robotics engineer.