There’s a robot on the ISS and it’s got legs!

RobonautA few years ago I headed to Florida with a friend to watch and report on the final space shuttle launch and landing. I caught up with this guy on the left at the media centre at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The robot I am stood with is very similar to one which lives on the ISS, known as a Robonaut. Robonaut is very real and helps astronauts to live and work on the Space Station – sounds like something out of science fiction, I know!

For the last few years Robonaut has only existed from the waist up – I mean first of all he is a robot, so doesn’t really need legs and secondly, he is in space! There is really no need for legs! But today Robonaut got his legs. All thanks to a special Easter delivery to the ISS from the commercial Dragon spacecraft, which launched on Good Friday. The downside is he won’t be able to use his legs much until a new battery pack arrives later in the year. Meaning basically the legs will only really work if he is plugged in with a power extension!

So why on Earth (or space!) does this robot need legs?!? Instead of typical robot legs you might imagine, these are GIANT legs – 4ft 8 in length to be precise – complete with seven joints, lights, cameras and sensors for building maps. They are probably some of the most expensive legs in the history of robots, costing $6million plus another $8million to build and certify for flight.

And what will Robonaut do with his new legs? Well he’s already been helping on the Space Station for a few years, but has been stuck on a shelf, so these legs will open up a whole new dimension. He will even be able to climb through the space station and help astronauts with mundane chores on the ISS. Think of him as a bit like the female helper robot in the Jetsons.

Robonaut is still pretty experimental but in the future, you could see him, or perhaps his successor, replacing astronauts for some of the space walks needed to keep the Space Station in a good state of repair.