While we have not quite figured out interstellar travel yet, nor built any fully armed and operational off-Earth battle stations, we have gotten closer to the sci-fi trope of robots that can help out humans in space. NASA now has an award-winning robot on board the International Space Station.
The Robonaut, which looks like a cross between C-3PO and the Michelin Man, was recently named NASA’s government invention of the year for 2014. It’s the first robot in space, and astronauts are testing to see if it could be used to perform medical tasks in space, guided by doctors’ hands on Earth.
The current Robonaut model—which can apparently take selfies—was built by NASA and General Motors to perform tasks on the space station, as well as in the automotive industry. “One advantage of a humanoid design is that Robonaut can take over simple, repetitive, or especially dangerous tasks on places such as the International Space Station,” NASA says on its website. Hopefully it won’t have to open any pod bay doors or shut down garbage mashers for the humans up there.
NASA’s Robonaut program dates back to 1997, when scientists somewhat optimistically believed they would be able to test a robot in space by 2005. Their dream was realized in 2011, when Robonaut 2 joined the crew bound for the ISS.
The Robonaut comes fully assembled to be unpacked for use on the Space Station:
Astronauts on the ISS have been testing how the Robonaut performs in minimal gravity. NASA says its aim with the Robonaut is to free up astronauts from doing repetitive tasks, to give them more time to spend on research and critical work on the ISS. It also looks like the robot might make a decent sparring partner, if anyone feels the need to let off steam up there.
NASA is working on multiple iterations of the Robonaut, including a version called the Centaur. It’s essentially a beefed-up version of the Robonaut, attached to a Mars-rover-style set of wheels.