Fedor blasts off: Russia sends first humanoid robot into space

Russia's humanoid robot, Fedor, being tested last month ahead of its flight yesterday on board the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft bound for the International Space Station. Fedor copies human movements, a key skill that allows it to remotely help astronauts.
Russia's humanoid robot, Fedor, being tested last month ahead of its flight yesterday on board the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft bound for the International Space Station. Fedor copies human movements, a key skill that allows it to remotely help astronauts. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MOSCOW • Russia yesterday sent up an unmanned rocket carrying a life-size humanoid robot that will spend 10 days learning to assist astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS).

Named Fedor (Final experimental demonstration object research) with identification number Skybot F850, the robot is the first ever launched by Russia.

Fedor blasted off in a Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft at 6.38am Moscow time from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz is set to dock with the space station tomorrow and remain till Sept 7.

Soyuz ships are normally manned on such trips, but yesterday, no humans were travelling, in order to test a new emergency rescue system.

Instead of cosmonauts, Fedor was strapped into a specially adapted pilot's seat, with a small Russian flag in its hand.

"Let's go. Let's go," the robot was heard as "saying" during launch, apparently repeating the famous phrase by first man in space Yuri Gagarin.

The silvery anthropomorphic robot stands 1.8m tall and weighs 160kg. Fedor has Instagram and Twitter accounts that describe it as learning new skills such as opening a bottle of water. In the station, it will trial those manual skills in very low gravity.

"That's connecting and disconnecting electric cables, using standard items from a screwdriver and a spanner to a fire extinguisher," the Russian space agency's director for prospective programmes and science, Dr Alexander Bloshenko, said in televised comments ahead of the launch.

"The first stage of in-flight experiments went according to the flight plan," the robot's account tweeted after reaching orbit.

 
 
 
 

Fedor copies human movements, a key skill that allows it to remotely help astronauts or even people on earth carry out tasks while they are strapped into an exoskeleton, among other possibilities.

Such robots will eventually carry out dangerous operations such as space walks, Dr Bloshenko told RIA Novosti state news agency.

On the website of one of the state backers of the project, the Foundation of Advanced Research Projects, Fedor is described as potentially useful on earth for working in high radiation environments, de-mining and tricky rescue missions.

On board, the robot will perform tasks supervised by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, who joined the ISS last month, and will wear an exoskeleton in a series of experiments scheduled for later this month.

Space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin showed pictures of the robot to President Vladimir Putin earlier this month, saying Fedor will be "an assistant to the crew".

"In the future we plan that this machine will also help us conquer deep space," he added.

Fedor is not the first robot to go into space. In 2011, US space agency Nasa sent up Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot developed with General Motors. It had a similar aim of working in high-risk environments but was flown back to earth in 2018 after experiencing technical problems.

In 2013, Japan sent up a small robot called Kirobo along with the ISS' first Japanese space commander. Developed with Toyota, Kirobo was able to hold conversations, albeit only in Japanese.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2019, with the headline 'Fedor blasts off: Russia sends first humanoid robot into space'. Print Edition | Subscribe