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Robonaut kicks into life on space station

The R2B robot has undergone power testing on the International Space Station, where it will eventually help astronauts by carrying out menial and dangerous tasks
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Robonaut installed on ISS

Robonaut 2, the first humanlike robot in space, has been powered up on the International Space Station and marked its awakening with a series of posts to Twitter.

Scientists connected up the R2B robot inside the Destiny lab on the space station on Monday, while the Nasa ground crew switched on its power for the first time.

"Those electrons feel GOOD! One small step for man, one giant leap for tinman kind," the robot posted in the @AstroRobonaut Twitter account run by its handlers.

The £1.5m robot, built at Nasa's Johnson Space Center in Houston, travelled to the ISS on the space shuttle Discovery during the STS-133 Mission. It arrived in February, but spent months in its case before being set up by the space station crew.

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Robonaut with arm ties

The Robonaut is made of aluminium and steel and weighs 150kg.

During testing, the ISS crew tied red tape around its arms to to make sure nobody on board used them as a handle, avoiding accidents.

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Robonaut's team at mission control

The Nasa team on the ground left the power flowing to Robonaut for two hours to test its electrical response, which would tell them whether its wiring or connections had come loose during the trip into space.

The 'power soak' check was also meant to test the thermal levels of R2B's electrics in microgravity.

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Robonaut in position

Developed in partnership with General Motors, the one-metre tall robot is designed to mimic the human body so that it can use the same tools and work in the same environments as astronauts. It's mounted on a pedestal rather than having legs, although the Robonaut design is expected to receive lower limbs next year.

The job of R2B is to carry out dangerous or tedious tasks, allowing astronauts to get on with more important experiments.

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Robonaut view of lab

The initial tests of R2B were a success, according to Nasa.

"Everything came alive," said Nic Radford, Robonaut deputy project manager, in a Nasa statement. "We started getting video out of Robonaut's eyes. Everything worked exactly as we expected it to. It was a very, very exciting time."

This image shows the first thing the robot 'saw' in space, a panel of instruments and tubes in the lab. The infrared rangefinder camera in the robot's helmet is actually located where a person's mouth would be.

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Robonaut lifting weight

With the initial tests a success, the next step is for mission control to take the robot through its first movements in orbit. During that phase, the ground crew will send commands telling it to move its hands and arms. This image from pre-flight testing shows the R2B lifting a 9kg weight.

Although the commands are scripted, the robot does also interpret its surroundings. Each of R2B's embedded controllers has 256MB of RAM and 64MB of flash storage, and it has an internal gigabit network with more than 30 processors.

The Robotnaut will stay packed away until those tests take place on 1 September. If all goes to plan, the robot could start helping out with simple tasks by early 2012, Nasa said.

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Robonaut takes off on journey

The R2B is one of four Robonauts in use — and others are in development, according to Nasa. Its twin, R2A, is being fitted with a four-wheel base to take part in a field test in the Arizona desert.

In this picture, R2A observes the lift-off of Discovery with the ISS-bound Robonaut on board.


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