May 26th, 2006 04:18 EST
(Cape Canaveral FL.) Robonaut Looks to the Stars and Beyond
"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science." Edwin Powell Hubble (1889-1953)
There was great dismay in the astronomy community as well as amongst space enthusiast, in general, when NASA announced earlier this year that the agency would be forced to let the Hubble space telescope die due to old age, sometime around 2007.
Hubble was originally designed in the 1970s and subsequently launched in 1990. The Hubble was the first scientific mission of any kind that was specifically designed for routine servicing by spacewalking astronauts. It has a visionary, modular design, which allows the astronauts to take it apart, replace worn out equipment, and upgrade instruments.
Whereas NASA is still grieving from the Columbia accident, they did not feel that they could fly a fourth shuttle mission to the telescope with sufficient guarantees of safety. For example, if something happened to one of the shuttles at the international space station, the astronauts could be rescued; at the Hubble, they could not.
But now another possible way of saving the Hubble has surfaced. NASA is considering sending robots to do the work. It is not implausible, some of the robots, like the Johnson Space Center’s Robonaut, a look-alike for a Star War’s storm trooper, or astonishingly humanoid.
According to N.A.S.A. "the Robonaut is a humanoid robot designed by geniuses at the Robot Systems Technology Branch at NASA's Johnson Space Center in a collaborative effort with DARPA. The Robonaut project seeks to develop and demonstrate a robotic system that can function as an EVA or astronaut equivalent. Robonaut jumps generations ahead by eliminating the robotic scars (e.g., special robotic grapples and targets) and specialized robotic tools of traditional on-orbit robotics. However, it still keeps the human operator in the control loop through its telepresence control system."
If NASA goes this route, it will represent a valuable reprieve for the Hubble, by now one of science’s most legendary tools, and a breakthrough for the use of robotics to explore space.
Whatever NASA’s decision America continues to be a Nation of exploration and through the dedication and funding by private corporations some of the fanciful imaginings in "Star Wars" may not be so long ago and far away anymore.