Robots have been going into space for a long time, as satellites, probes, and landers. One of the earlier robotic probes, the Voyager 1, launched in 1977, is still operating, and will soon leave the solar system along with Voyager 2. Other robotic spacecraft include the Juno, which is on its way to Jupiter; the Curiosity Mars rover, described below; and various Mars landers and space probes.
But some space robots don't get quite that far. Instead, they're either up in the International Space Station orbiting Earth, being tested as reentry vehicles in low-Earth orbits, or still on Earth undergoing R&D.
Click on the image below to see 13 examples of these space-worthy machines.
Justin is a humanoid robot being developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) for tasks that are too dangerous for humans, such as repairing orbiting satellites. Like humanoid robots designed for home use, humanoid space robots must be dexterous, mobile, and capable of carrying out tasks that require complex manipulation of tools and objects. They also need to be intelligent and have the ability to undertake manipulations that involve the use of both hands. Justin has compliant-controlled lightweight arms and four fingers on each of its two hands. It's remotely operated by a human, and its mobile platform allows it to operate autonomously at longer ranges. The platform has individually movable, spring-born wheels to match the robot's upper body movements during manipulation tasks. Also contributing to the robot's autonomy are photonic mixer device (PMD) sensors and cameras that allow it to make 3D reconstructions of its environment. Eventually, Justin will be mounted on its own satellite. (Source: German Aerospace Center)
good post, SparkyWatt. Your multi-point response made a lot of good points particularly this one point you made at the last...
Most of the people who object to this stuff do so because of money. They scream about 100 billion dollar - 10 year programs as huge wastes of money. 100 billion dollars over 10 years in the US is less than $10 per family per month. I would gladly pay that to put a colony on the moon. People who beef about that simply have no sense of proportion.
I agree with you 100% SparkyWatt. It's the attention span of the American public that kills any program scope beyond a YouTube video made in a simulation lab. It's not about the money. There's plenty of money to bail out failing multi-national banks but not even a fraction of that for space exploration. JPL is the sweetheart becuase they get regular funding and use only the oldest vehicles to launch their tiny payloads. Nice pictures, good streaming video, but what else?
Larger investments in space launch technology are only a waste of money until another 20-30 years from now you reap the benefits. We are soon to get another post-Apollo generation to look back at NASA's lack of progress for the meager yet supposedly wise expenditure of money. The human organism hasn't been back to the moon's surface for over 40 years. Ever notice NASA doesn't run a comprehensive timeline history of its successful programs from start to present? It starts with Yuri Gagarin, moves up to Apollo, fast forward to the early 80's shuttle highlights... then? the 90's, X-33, nope. Space Station history from 1984 to present? nope they only fast-forward to highlight reel stuff post-launch 17 years later. That's right, 17 years of reviews and billions of USD outsourced to Russia later.
We had the most practical yet ambitious program minted post-Columbia called Constellation. Just as you said, the program got politicized, criticized for its cost (to be made in smaller multi-year payments, not the supposed lump sum figure that kept being posted in the news) then dumped right after the shuttle retired. What we have today is the most ambition our government chooses to muster.
I wanted to extend one important thing here that seems to not be widely understood. This applies to space robotics too. Whether it's lifting water, aluminum, silicon, or just the human meat bags flying the vehicle, its price per mass to orbit that is nearly the only the determinant. It's not a manned vs. unmanned issue. More payload to orbit for less money benefits EVERYONE.
All ambititous space exploration (beyond the ho-hum of today) comes down to having regular and far cheaper access to orbit from the Earth's gravity well. This means the vehicle technology needs a quantum leap forward to make any real difference beyond either the "economy of scale" approach which fails to get taxpayer buy-in for the lump sum $100B+ price tag or the pseudo-open-source "dumping" approach currently practiced by today's space agency which builds old tech vehicles to yield results as high-tech as what was seen in the 1960's.
Like education of our children, the space program of today is an explicit function of the investment choices or lack of investment choices made in years and decades past. It starts by having a plan and sticking to it. The American public needs a longer attention span to make sure we get what we paid for.