Low gravity enviroments and transports


If you are a long time SF reader and/or a writer in the same genre, you may have dedicated some thought about how we will work and live outside our planet. In the next few years we’re expecting new manned missions to the Moon and to Mars and it’s a given that we have to leave our cradle someday, to expand in our solar system and beyond.

One of the main problems is about transports, of course. Going to the Moon from our planet is quite costly and energy-consuming, that given the need of overcome the gravity and the resistance of our atmosphere. But what about the Moon or Mars (or any other moon or planet accessible in our system)? If we get to drill mines anywhere or to manufacture any kind of goods out planet, how do we get the stuff home?

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STS-133 The first Robonaut2 in space

The Space Shuttle mission STS-133 is mainly known for being the last flight of this program, done by “Discovery” starting February, the 24th, 2011. As many missions of the program, it carried out a number of different purposes and the six men crew (Alvin Drew, Nicole Stott, Eric Boe, Steven Lindsey, Michael Barratt and Steve Bowen) worked hard along the specialists already aboard of the ISS.

There was another worker. A very quiet one. NASA’s Robonaut2 (also called R2).

Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli with R2

Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli with R2

For a robot fan like me, that was the most important thing. R2 underwent a long list of test, both mechanical and operational, in order to prove its capabilities assisting astronauts inside and outside the International Space Station.

It’s important to state that R2 is still a working prototype, is not ready to be fully operational and it will never be in tis actual state of development. But this experience and the data collected by this mission will be a great help to create the next generation of robonauts.

Looking at the more ambitious project scheduled for the near future (i.e. Mars travel, the comeback on the Moon and the private mining project on a asteroid) the need for more advanced and specialized robots makes robonaut’s project look more and more promising.

We’re still far away from AI driven robots but expert systems are already available and that could be enough for stimulate affordable projects for the next ten years. With huge investments on the line by public agencies like DARPA this piece of future looks at hand’s reach.