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Russia sends robot named Fedor into space

August 22, 2019

A Russian humanoid robot has started his journey to the International Space Station, serving as a mechanical passenger for a new type of rocket. The Skybot F850 android, named Fedor, is set to learn new skills in space.

FEDOR and a person in a VR helmet controlling him before the space launch
Image: Imago Images/ITAR-TASS/Roscosmos State Corporation

Russia's space agency, Roskosmos, launched an android into space from the Baikonur cosmodrome on Thursday.

The video from aboard the Soyuz capsule showed the robot sitting in the pilot seat and holding a small Russian flag. During the launch, the robot was heard saying "Let's go," repeating the phrase said by Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, at the start of his 1961 trip.

Russian scientist nicknamed the android Fedor, short for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research. Fedor's design closely follows the human body, complete with five fingers on each hand. The robot, also designated as Skybot F850, is 180 cm (5 feet, 11 inches) tall and weighs 160 kilos (353 pounds). His creators say he boasts "elements of artificial intelligence."

Fedor and three Roskosmos scientists
Scientists prepared Fedor for his trip to spaceImage: Imago Images/ITAR-TASS/Roscosmos State Corporation

New rocket, new passenger

The launch also served as a test for the Soyuz 2.1a rocket, an updated version of Soyuz missile set to transport humans into orbit from next year. During the flight, Fedor vocalized the rocket's telemetric data, tracking its behavior.

A tweet on Fedor's Twitter account said that the initial tests went "in accordance with the flight mission."

"The ship is in the calculated orbit," the message said. "Everything is in order."

From the capsule, the robot also congratulated Russia's National Flag Day, August 22, saying that the flag "unites millions of people, and millions of people are proud of it."

"This includes my creators," he said.

Fedor is expected to dock at the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday.

Shooting and driving

Fedor was initially developed by the Russian Emergency Ministry to replace humans working in dangerous conditions. Images and videos on social media show the robot learning how to mimic human gestures and perform complicated hand motions, such as opening a bottle. A video also shows him shooting two guns at the same time as well as driving a car.

Last month, Roskosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin showed pictures of the robot to Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that the android would serve as "an assistant to the crew" in space.

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

This month, Rogozin tweeted a video showing Fedor during the preparation for the flight.

A robot with a spanner

Fedor is due to stay onboard the ISS for two weeks. Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov is expected to work with the robot, piloting it with the help of an exoskeleton and a VR headset. The android will how to operate simple tools "from a spanner to a fire extinguisher" in zero gravity, according to Rogozin.

The Russian android is not the first humanoid robot to travel to the ISS. In 2011, NASA sent up Robonaut 2, which stayed there for several years, returning to Earth last year because of technical problems. Japan also sent a 34-centimeter (13.4 inches) tall robot called Kirobo along with the station's first Japanese commander.

dj/sms (dpa, AFP, AP, Interfax)

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