NASA’s Robonaut Competition Announces Million-Dollar Prize


Screenshot from NASA’s official trailer for the Robonaut program.

Jeff Vaughn, Staff News Repackager

NASA has made a design for a robot that they plan to use on future missions once the design has been better updated and prepared for actual use, since it is only a design and isn’t entirely ready.

There have been two models of the so-called “robonaut” that have been made and their names are R1 and R2.

The design of the robot is to resemble a human and use tools just like humans do. The models will be composed of hands, arms, legs, feet, a body, and even a head.

Right now the current design for R2, which is being field tested, is one where the robot is controlled manually by  either an astronaut or from a scientist on Earth.

The current model has come to a problem when astronauts were trying to install the legs to the robot and astronaut Peggy Whitson plans find out what the problem is and do HER best to fix it.

According to NASA’s website, Whitson is currently part of Expedition 50/51, which is her third long-duration mission to the International Space Station. Whitson and her crewmates, Cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet launched on November 17, 2016.  The Iowa native completed two six-month tours of duty aboard the station for Expedition 5 in 2002, and as the station commander for Expedition 16 in 2008. She has accumulated 377 days in space between the two missions, the most for any U.S. woman at the time of her return to Earth. Whitson has also performed six spacewalks, totaling 39 hours and 46 minutes.

NASA has requested help on the design from others so that it can be improved and ready for use. They are making it a challenge in which the team who comes up with the best working program for the developing R5 unit, which is to be used on the manned mission to Mars, will win $1 million.

What they are trying to achieve is to relieve astronauts of having to do certain jobs that can prove to be dangerous for them but could be easier for a robot.

The robot, in theory, could help the astronauts by cleaning around the station and spacewalking–one of the most dangerous parts of an astronaut’s job.

The challenge has some requirements that must be met in order to win which include certain tasks such as aligning a communication disk, fixing leaks, and repairing a solar array.

Once the robots are ready and start to help, the astronauts can focus more on other things such as working on experiments or work on the space station itself.

The R5 unit design looks like a metal robot, but actually makes use of high-tech elastic technology since most other planets reach very low temperatures.