There’s Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” R2-D2 and C-3P0 from “Star Wars,” and of course the super-scary HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
But space bots aren’t just science fiction anymore: Russia has sent a robot to space to learn how to help cosmonauts and astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
Model Skybot F-850, nicknamed “Fyodor” — short for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research — is shaped like a human and designed to perform tasks that humans can do, like using a screwdriver or a wrench. It blasted off from Kazakhstan late Wednesday aboard an unmanned Russian Soyuz MS-14 rocket, and will arrive at the ISS Saturday and spend five days aboard.
The spaceship that Fyodor flew on usually carries a crew of three into space. But Fyodor had the whole ship to itself. The robot might be sitting in the driver’s seat, but it’s not flying the rocket. The ship is on autopilot, using its own internal navigation system — another non-human helper — called Kurs.
The Russians want to be clear: Fyodor isn’t a killer robot, though it can shoot guns. It’s designed to be used in all sorts of high-risk scenarios, including gunfights and space. It’s nimble, able to administer first aid with its metal, hinged, human-like fingers, which can also pull a gun’s trigger.
“We are not creating a terminator but artificial intelligence which will have a great practical importance in various fields,” said Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin in a tweet in 2017, referring to the sci-fi film about a time-traveling murderous android played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Rogozin also praised the robot’s “decision-making skills.”
Video of the launch shows the robot sitting in the pilot’s seat, holding a small Russian flag. Beside Fyodor sat a small toy Russian cosmonaut, which floated into the air as the rocket left the Earth’s atmosphere and entered into low-gravity space.
Robots like Fyodor, which stands at 5-foot-11 and weighs about 350 pounds, have been around for about five years, and other models have been used to drive cars and conduct rescue work, according to Space.com.
And though Russia’s never sent a humanoid robot into space before, the primary purpose of the flight was to test the rocket Fyodor was on, NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said during the launch broadcast. This was the first time that this particular capsule-rocket combination has been used for a flight of this type, and researchers want to be sure the flight is safe for humans before sending actual people up to space on them.
Fyodor’s good for figuring that out. The android is equipped with a bunch of sensors that will help give a sense of just how comfortable — or uncomfortable — a flight on this ship will be for human astronauts.
The spacecraft is also bringing up nearly 1,500 pounds of supplies and food for the station's six-person crew.
Fyodor isn’t the first robot to visit the ISS. The U.S. sent up Robonaut 2 back in 2011, specially-equipped with (very goofy-looking) “climbing legs” for zero-gravity mobility. It was designed to help astronauts in high-risk situations, and was sent back to Earth in 2018 after experiencing some technical difficulties.
Japan also sent up Kirobo, a friendly Japanese-speaking robot modeled on manga character Astro Boy, designed to keep astronauts from getting lonely in space. The robot got lonely in space after his buddy, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, went home to Earth.
"I'm a little tired, so I think I'll rest awhile, but I hope you'll look up at the sky sometimes and think of me,” Kirobo said in a video message after Wakata left the ISS.
Cover: Humanoid robot Fyodor prepares for the Soyuz MS-14 orbital flight to the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz-2.1a rocket carrier. Roscosmos State Corporation/TASS (Photo by TASS\TASS via Getty Images)