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STS-133: Delivering the Future
NASA astronauts Nicole Stott and Michael Barratt

Attired in training versions of their shuttle launch and entry suits, STS-133 Mission Specialists Nicole Stott and Michael Barratt participate in a training session on the middeck of the crew compartment trainer in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Image Credit: NASA

Space is about to get a little more futuristic.

Included in the cargo that soon will be arriving at the International Space Station is Robonaut 2, a robotic astronaut. Robonaut 2 will be flying to the station on the STS-133 space shuttle mission, which is scheduled to be the final flight of Discovery.

Robonaut 2 won't be the first robot on the space station. The orbiting lab's robotic population already includes everything from a variety of robotic arms outside the station to Dextre, a robot that can perform spacewalk tasks, to the bowling-ball-sized SPHERES that can fly through the station.

One thing that makes Robonaut 2 unique, however, is that it is designed to look like a human being. Robonaut 2 very closely resembles the upper half of a person, right down to fingers that move like those on a human hand. Engineers have tested Robonaut 2 extensively on Earth; the initial purpose of the robot's time on the space station will be to continue that testing in a space environment.

Robonaut 2 is only one part of the cargo being delivered to the space station on Discovery's final scheduled flight. The space shuttle will be carrying Leonardo, a permanent multipurpose module. Leonardo has flown to the station several times as a cargo container, but this time the module will be left behind as a permanent part of the space station. Discovery also will be delivering extra parts to the station so that they will be available if they are needed in the future.

Robonaut 2 holding a smartphone

Updates on Robonaut 2's stay on the space station will be posted on Twitter. Image Credit: NASA

STS-133 will be the 39th flight of the space shuttle Discovery. Discovery first flew in August 1984. The orbiter is named after four sea vessels, primarily the HMS Discovery that was sailed in expeditions by explorer James Cook. Highlights of the shuttle Discovery's history include launching the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 and conducting the three Return to Flight missions after the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Discovery has flown more than any other orbiter.

Commanding Discovery for the STS-133 mission will be astronaut Steven Lindsey, who will be making his fifth spaceflight. He commanded two previous missions to the space station, STS-104 in 2001 and STS-121 in 2006. The mission's pilot is Eric Boe. He previously flew on STS-126 in 2008, which delivered new living quarters to the space station.

Mission specialists on STS-133 will be Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Stephen Bowen and Nicole Stott. Drew previously visited the space station on STS-118 in 2007, as Bowen did on STS-126 in 2008. Barratt served as a member of the International Space Station’s crew in 2009, but he will be making his first flight on the shuttle on STS-133. Stott was a member of the space station’s crew in 2009, riding up to the station on STS-128 and returning to Earth on STS-129 after 91 days in space.

The STS-133 mission is an important step in preparing for the future of spaceflight. NASA is working to carry out a long-term plan that will lead to human exploration of the solar system. Currently, NASA is focused on completing the International Space Station before the shuttle fleet's retirement, planned for 2011. The station is an important platform for learning how to live and work in space and will be vital to exploration as human space travel extends farther from Earth.

The mission patch features the space shuttle and Earth

The design of the STS-133 mission patch symbolizes the end of Discovery’s operational life as an orbiter. Image Credit: NASA

NASA is committed to building strategic partnerships and links between science, technology, engineering and mathematics formal and informal educators. Through hands-on, interactive educational activities, NASA is engaging students, educators, families, the public and all agency stakeholders to increase scientific and technological literacy in the United States.

Related Resources
› STS-133
› Robonaut 2
› Robonaut 2 on Twitter   &rarr
› Nicole Stott on Twitter   &rarr
› NASA Education

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services