This Feb 2013 promo video for the Kibo Robot Project really builds the excitement for having a 13.4 inch tall robot astronaut in space… just in case that didn’t already sound exciting. (Turn on the translated captions!)
On August 9, 2013, an Astro Boy-inspired, talking robot named Kirobo — a mix of Kibo, "hope" in Japanese, and robot —will arrive at the International Space Station on a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) supply ship.
Kirobo will work directly with JAXA engineer, astronaut, and human Koichi Wakata, who will take command of the ISS in November. The robot’s presence will also explore “how machines can lend emotional support to people isolated over long periods.” Among other functions, it is built with voice-, face-, and emotion- recognition technologies.
Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds for a robot to become an astronaut. Researchers had to subject Kirobo to a number of different tests to determine whether the robot would be suitable for its weightless mission, including thermal analysis testing, electromagnetic compatibility testing, and a test to determine whether the general background noise on board the Internal Space Station might otherwise interfere with the robot’s voice-recognition capabilities.
Zero gravity flights are performed using a specially modified aircraft, an FAA approved aircraft called G-Force One. The maneuvers are conducted in dedicated airspace 100 miles long by 10 miles wide. Specially trained pilots fly the aircraft in a series of maneuvers called parabolas, or arcs, between the altitudes of 24,000 and 32,000 feet.
At the beginning of each parabola, the aircraft climbs at a 45-degree angle. At the “top” of the parabola, the aircraft is “pushed over” into a controlled descent that creates a temporary zero-gravity environment. The teacher flights include approximately 15 parabolas ranging from low-gravity environments typical of the moon (1/6th G) or Mars (1/3 G) to complete weightlessness. At the end of each “weightless” period, which lasts approximately 30 seconds, the aircraft is gradually pulled out of the descent, reestablishing a more normal gravity environment inside the plane.