NASA has designed a robot that could help astronauts who will take part in the manned mission to Mars. The robot could perform tasks before the arrival of human explorers or work with them.
The U.S. space agency has been working on the humanoid machine named Valkyrie for several years. It was initially designed for disaster relief but NASA envisioned that the 6.2-foot 290-pound machine could be used in space mission.
Now, the agency has collaborated with two leading universities to prepare the machine for such mission amid preparations for plans to send humans to an asteroid come 2025 and to the Red Planet in the 2030s.
The space agency awarded the latest prototype named R5 to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University. The two university groups, which were chosen through a selection process from groups that participated in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge, will test and develop the humanoid robot for future space missions.
The universities will eventually enter their modified R5s into the NASA's Space Robotics Challenge, where they will compete with each other and prove their capability for survival in a deep space mission to Mars.
The two groups will each be given as much as $250,000 per year for two years from NASA's Space Technology Mission Directive to fund the research and development of their R5s.
"Advances in robotics, including human-robotic collaboration, are critical to developing the capabilities required for our journey to Mars," said Steve Jurczyk, from the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA. "We are excited to engage these university research groups to help NASA with this next big step in robotics technology development."
NASA has expressed its interest in humanoid robots because these machines can help and possibly even replace astronauts who work in extreme space environments. Robert Ambrose, from NASA's Johnson Space Center, said that a machine can be used if a chore appears to be too risky for humans.
"We could let the machine go out and sacrifice itself," Ambrose said. "'And that's OK. It's not human. We can build another one. We'll build one even better."
Besides NASA, China's space agency is also banking on the help of robots in space missions. The robot named "Xiaotian" was reported to have a number of capabilities for tasks in moon landing, unmanned probes and space station missions.