Ten years ago today, humanity inaugurated its first permanent home above the clouds. On November 2, 2000, the International Space Station (ISS) was declared open for business and has been continuously occupied ever since. In these intervening years, the ISS has been home to more than 200 astronauts from 15 nations.
Originally, ISS was a studio compartment. After 34 Shuttle flights and dozens more by Soyuz, ISS has, with the addition of numerous pre-built units, morphed into a luxurious Tudor manor in which to live and work in space. The major drawback is the infrequent garbage pick-up by visiting spacecraft.
The astronauts, cosmonauts, and other space residents perform a range of spaceborne research, such as the nine experiments scheduled to take flight tomorrow on Discovery for their implementation on ISS. The ISS residents also perform the more mundane activities, like cleaning air filters, that necessary to keep their home happy and free of the fungus and spontaneous fires that plagued Mir in its last days.
Some of these tasks will be take over shortly by Robonaut 2, which is already loaded in the Shuttle’s cargo hold. Robonaut 2 is an adaptable humanoid robot that can use tools designed for humans in space suits. Its arms and hands are like those of humans, with similar range of motion and strength, a four-jointed thumb, and a light enough touch to move an envelope or piece of fabric. In fact, because the Robonaut 2 can be told force expectations ahead of time and then uses only the force necessary for the task. As opposed to its predecessor, Robonaut 1, this new iteration has redundant systems so that incorrect data will stop its motion.
Robonaut 2 will be mounted on a track that runs along a task board. The task board is loaded with knobs, switches, and panels representing what NASA’s Robonaut project manager Ron Diftler calls “an indicative set of tasks.” Because the task board is modular, the work can “grow in complexity over the first year,” said Diftler in yesterday’s briefing at Kennedy Space Center. NASA on the ground will work with the ISS crew to determine new tasks and swap out panels accordingly. Eventually, NASA wants to have an Extra-Vehicular Activity Robonaut as well, always at the ready for a repair spacewalk.
NASA refers to ISS as a permanent home in low-Earth orbit and the first step in the expansion of space exploration to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.. It’s currently 220 miles above us, circling the Earth every 90 minutes. Click here or here to find out when to view it in your sky. In L.A., the next visible pass is on November 11 at 6:02:22pm, for less than a minute low in the northern sky.