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Robonaut R2 tweets from outer space

By Katia Moskvitch
Technology reporter, BBC News

image captionR2 poses with the Expedition 26 commander astronaut Scott Kelly at the ISS

The first human-like astronaut robot - Robonaut 2 or R2 - has awakened at the International Space Station - and already started tweeting.

"Those electrons feel GOOD! One small step for man, one giant leap for tinman kind," said the robot's first tweet.

R2 was brought to the ISS in February 2011 on board of space shuttle Discovery.

It has been designed to work alongside humans, helping them both inside and outside the station.

Although there were tweets sent from R2′s account (@astrorobonaut) before it "woke up", now its nearly 40,000 followers can rest assured the robot is indeed actively "tweeting" as its circuits are operational.

It is even responding to questions and sending birthday greetings.

R2 weighs 136kg (300 pounds), has a torso, two human-like arms and hands, and wears a golden helmet with a visor on its head.

The "tinman" has yet to get its legs, but for now it will stay attached to a fixed base.

At some point though NASA will supply it with one leg - for climbing through the station's corridors.

Eventually, the torso may be mounted on a four-wheeled rover called Centaur 2 for possible explorations of Lunar and Martian surfaces.

Truly humanoid

There are currently four Robonauts on Earth - but R2 is much more advanced.

According to NASA, the robot is "capable of reaching speeds more than four times faster than R1, is more compact, is more dexterous, and includes a deeper and wider range of sensing."

R2 has been primarily designed to show how dexterous robots cope in a weightless environment - but NASA hopes that eventually it will get out of the station to assist its human colleagues on spacewalks.

"R2 is the first humanoid robot in space," said NASA in a statement on its website.

"R2, now unpacked, will be initially operated inside the Destiny laboratory for operational testing, but over time, both its territory and its applications could expand."

However there was bad news for robot fans hoping to see the new superstar on its return. "There are no plans to return R2 to Earth," said Nasa.

Moon and Mars

The US space agency said that the R2 project pointed to the future of space exploration, not as a replacement for humans, but as a companion, capable of carrying out supporting roles.

"The combined potential of humans and robots is a perfect example of the sum equalling more than the parts," said John Olson, director of NASA's Exploration Systems Integration Office, quoted on the agency's website.

"It will allow us to go farther and achieve more than we can probably even imagine today."

It took NASA and General Motors 15 years to build the human-like robot.

If the mission is a success, future R2-like "droids" could be sent into space to carry out works on satellites.

They could even venture all the way to Mars - to prepare for the arrival of their human masters on the red planet.

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