Thursday, 20 September, 2018

Flying brain blasts off on cargo ship toward space station

Phil McAlister NASA’s Phil Mc Alister talks about commercial human spaceflight at the New Space conference
Sandra Phillips | 01 July, 2018, 19:57

NASA IS SENDING a rather unusual type of crew member aboard its next SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS): a robot called CIMON.

"CIMON allows the astronaut to keep both hands free, with no need to manually operate a computer, for example", said the German Aerospace Centre.

The shipment is packed into a recycled Dragon capsule that first flew in 2016.

To prepare CIMON for its trip to space, researchers trained the robot using photos and voice samples of German astronaut Alexander Gerst as well as ISS procedures and plans. "It is meant to show to what extent the astronauts' work can be supported in the European Columbus module on the ISS and relieve them, in particular, of routine tasks", said Christian Karrasch, CIMON Project Manager at the DLR Space Administration.

About 10 minutes later, SpaceX's Twitter account confirmed Dragon was "in good orbit". The capsule is scheduled to reach the station on July 2.

The spacecraft's occupant also included a robot named Cimon, short for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion.

It has been described as a "flying brain" by Manfred Jaumann, head of microgravity payloads at Airbus.

In 2012, Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft in history to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return cargo to Earth, a feat previously achieved only by governments.

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"He's a friendly guy and he has this hard power-off button", German Space Agency physicist Christian Karrasch, the project manager, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

CIMON is capable of nodding in response to questions and will be able to zoom up to astronauts when being called by its name.

The goal for this flight is mainly to demonstrate the technology works.

The robot is created to guide Gerst through various science procedures, and show videos or pictures as needed.

Once toggled to "offline", Gerst can be sure nothing he is saying is streamed down to the IBM server on Earth.

NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel will use the space station's Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture Dragon when it arrives at the station.

On Friday, the spacecraft was carrying 5,900 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies to support hundreds of investigations now happening aboard the International Space Station's laboratory.

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