When the Space Shuttle Discovery launches tomorrow, it will carry six human -- and one non-human -- crewmembers to the International Space Station. The non-human is Robonaut 2 (R2), which is set to become the first humanoid robot in space. R2 will be unpacked several months after it arrives, and tested on the station. He (or she – R2 is a little ambiguous right now) will become a permanent resident of the space station.
After testing, software upgrades and various lower bodies can be added (currently, R2 has no legs), allowing R2 to move around and eventually work outside in the vacuum of space. Possible future uses for R2 are servicing communications, weather, and reconnaissance satellites; exploring asteroids and comets; and eventually visiting Mars and Mars’ moons.
But for now, R2 will be content to serve the human astronauts he’s traveling with. R2 surpasses previous dexterous humanoid robots in strength, yet is safe enough to work side-by-side with humans. As R2 proves its mettle, the robot may graduate to station maintenance tasks, such as vacuuming or cleaning filters. But don’t think R2 is just a space station housekeeper. With upgrades, R2 could perform repairs on the exterior of the station or simply help astronauts as they work outside.