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October 10, 2002

Kylie Moritz
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
(281) 483-5111

Release: #J02-98

NASA Innovations Demonstrated at World Space Congress

With the most human-like robotic hands in the world, NASA's Robonaut Unit B will demonstrate how it might assist astronauts in the harsh environment of outer space. The second prototype unit of this unique humanoid robotic technology and other NASA innovations will be on display at the World Space Congress in Houston.

The newly developed Robonaut Unit B is comprised of two five-fingered hands, two arms, a torso and a head similar to its predecessor; only the second unit is mounted on a mobile platform while the original Robonaut is stationary. Both units can be teleoperated by a human or work autonomously when given certain commands. With these functions, Robonaut might one day help spacewalking astronauts by locating and retrieving tools or setting up the exterior workstation even before the astronauts step outside of the spacecraft.

"We hope that someday our teamwork will benefit the astronauts when they themselves can work side by side with Robonaut in space," said NASA's Robonaut Project Manager, Robert Ambrose. "Robonaut is friendly enough to interact with humans, but also rugged enough to go into the harsh environments that humans cannot."

Having human-like features is beneficial for a robot being built to help astronauts. No special tools are needed for Robonaut to interface with the same equipment that spacewalking astronauts have been training with and using for over 30 years. Robonaut's dexterous hands are able to grasp onto handrails, tether hooks and power grip tools in the same way that a human hand in a pressurized spacesuit glove would.

Development work on Robonaut began in 1998 under a partnership between NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Other JSC technologies on display at the World Space Congress include the Mini Autonomous Extravehicular Robotic Camera (Mini AERCam) and the Carbon Nanotube Project.
  • Mini AERCam is a 7.5-inch diameter spherical free-flying video camera being developed as a possible tool for surveying the outside of space structures such as the International Space Station, and as an additional point of view during astronaut spacewalks and robotic operations. Development of the "nano-satellite" Mini AERCam began at JSC in 2000. A technology demonstration version in an approximate flight-like configuration is now undergoing testing in airbearing and closed-loop orbital simulation environments. A larger version, AERCAM Sprint, was tested on space shuttle mission STS-87 in 1997.
  • The Carbon Nanotube Project at JSC includes the development and application of a material 10-100 times stronger than steel yet one-sixth its weight. This material, comprised of single-wall, carbon nanotubes, has extraordinary characteristics and may be able to benefit future human exploration of space. Development began in 1997 and work now focuses on investigating future applications of the material.
NASA engineers working on these projects will be available for questions at the World Space Congress Monday, Oct. 14, through Saturday, Oct. 19. Media wishing to attend the event should contact the WSC Press Center at (713) 853-8354.

For more information about the World Space Congress visit:

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/wsc

For more information on JSC technologies visit:

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/programs/technology.html
 

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