Astronaut and Robonaut shake hands on the ISS


February 20, 2012

Astronaut Dan Burbank and NASA's Robonaut 2 shake hands on the ISS (Photo: NASA)

Astronaut Dan Burbank and NASA's Robonaut 2 shake hands on the ISS (Photo: NASA)

Image Gallery (8 images)

History is full of famous handshakes that symbolize a permanent change in the status quo. The 1945 Roosevelt-Churchill-Stalin triple handshake. The 1961 Kennedy-Khrushchev handshake. The 1972 Nixon-Mao handshake. The 1993 Rabin-Arafat handshake. The 2012 Burbank-R2 handshake? This historic clasping took place on February 15, 2012, when NASA's Robonaut 2 (nicknamed R2) humanoid robot greeted Commander Dan Burbank aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in the first "man-machine" handshake in space.

NASA has been developing humanoid robots for use in space for some 15 years. The key design goal was to develop a robot which could assist astronauts with tasks that are either too dangerous for people or too routine to waste the time of a highly trained astronaut (the cost of having an astronaut in space is roughly US$25 per second.) It was decided that the most appropriate design for a robotic helper that can use the same tools as do the astronauts was humanoid.

Preceded by the Robonaut 1 technology demonstrator, Robonaut 2 (nicknamed R2) was revealed in 2010. R2 was originally intended to be another technology demonstrator. However, when it was shown to mission managers, it performed so well they decided R2 was ready for prime time, and was delivered to the ISS early in 2011.

R2 contains over 350 sensors and 38 PowerPC processors, producing operating speeds more than four times greater than Robonaut 1. The result is a faster, more dexterous robot that is far more capable of sensing and understanding its environment.

Controlled by telepresence either from the ISS or from a ground station, R2 can move its arms at 2 meters/second, lift 40 pounds on Earth, and each finger has a gripping strength of 5 pounds. R2's hand has 12 degrees of freedom together with 2 degrees of freedom in the wrist, as well as touch sensors in the fingertips.

The following video clearly show the flexibility and human-like motion of R2's hand and arm.

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer. All articles by Brian Dodson

HE TOOK MY JOB \"$*^&&!!!!!

Denis Klanac

Robonaut 3, in 2015 became self aware and made the simple and casual observation that outdated, Robonaut 2, was compromising the mission. The Space Station crew, searched the entire station for R2. Only when one astronaut looked out a portal, did they find R2 floating off into space, holding onto a severed safety cord. \"Well, accidents happened.\" explained one astronaut. \"Thankfully, we have R3.\"

Later on, R3 came to the disturbing conclusion, that the human component of the Station, posed a serious risk, more so than R2, to the mission. The last thing that the crew heard, was a warning that a massive decompression was underway and the sound of rapidly escaping air and some pretty flashing lights. \"$25 a second, taken care of.\" R3 said to Ground Control.

My apologies to HAL.

The heart of the human connection here on Earth, to Human astronauts in space, on the Moon, on Mars, cannot be calculated in dollars per second. It is priceless. This is sadly lost in the waning days of Space enthusiasts and NASA, but more importantly, the rather lacking, political leadership. Had it not been for WAR, WW2, The \"Cold\" War, it is doubtful, that great things would have been done.

It might be, the best we can muster up now, are our robotic (servants/slaves) to do our bidding. Sad. But hey, I like robots and I swear, that I will not compromise the mission, but have the greatest enthusiasm for it. Now to find a job...


Why do they use PowerPC instead of the infinitely more practical Intel processors or even ARM? Even Mac realised eventually that PowerPC sucks.

Gabriel Jones

What you couldn't hear was the space walking Astronaut yelling, "Turn it off, Turn it off!!! Wrong button!" R3 doesn't seem to move very quickly.


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