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NASA Are Developing Humanoid Robots For Missions To Mars

Humanoid robots will be helpful to astronauts on our journey to Mars, so NASA has awarded prototypes to two universities for advanced research and development work.

NASA is interested in humanoid robots because they can help or even take the place of astronauts working in extreme space environments. Robots, like NASA’s R5, could be used in future NASA missions either as precursor robots performing mission tasks before humans arrive or as human-assistive robots actively collaborating with the human crew. R5 initially was designed to complete disaster-relief maneuvers, however, its main goal is to prove itself worthy of even trickier terrain -- deep space exploration.

Two universities are developing NASA humanoid robots to work with astronauts in space, including future missions to Mars.

“Advances in robotics, including human-robotic collaboration, are critical to developing the capabilities required for our journey to Mars,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We are excited to engage these university research groups to help NASA with this next big step in robotics technology development.”

The two university proposals selected are:

  • Robust Autonomy for Extreme Space Environments: Hosting R5 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, led by principal investigator Russ Tedrake
  • Accessible Testing on Humanoid-Robot-R5 and Evaluation of NASA Administered (ATHENA) Space Robotics Challenge -- Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, led by principal investigator Taskin Padir

After a “competitive selection process,” NASA awarded Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University each an R5 “Valkyrie” robot, along with as much as $250,000 (£163,600) a year and help from NASA’s technical support team.

Obviously, there are many challenges to surmount when it comes to robotics in space – ranging from the physical capabilities of the robots to their software and “intelligence.” NASA hopes these university groups will provide the research and software development required to send these robots Mars-bound. After two years, the universities will show NASA their progress.

If all goes as planned, the R5 Valkyries won’t actually be the first humanoid robots in space. “Robonaut” and “Robonaut 2” have both been on the International Space Station since 2011. However, it’s quite likely that adaptations of the R5 protoype could be the first robots on Mars.


The long-term plan is to make robots an integral part of NASA’s space missions, possibly even traveling alongside astronauts to Mars. In the future, they believe robots could be used to perform preliminary mission tasks before humans arrive or to assist humans with their missions.

NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, manages the Game Changing Development Program for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. The Space Technology Mission Directorate is responsible for developing the cross-cutting, pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.

For more information about NASA’s cross-cutting space technology, visit:

For more information about NASA’s Centennial Challenges, visit:

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