A Japanese talking robot blasted off on a mission to the International Space Station on Sunday morning. The android, called Kirobo, will arrive at the ISS on August 9.
The talking robot is the world’s first to be launched into space and is expected to serve as companion to astronaut Kochi Wakata, who starts his mission in November.
Along with carrying the first ever android-astronaut, the unmanned shuttle is also carrying supplies for the crew aboard the ISS, reports the BBC.
The unmanned craft is carrying drinking water, food, clothing, and work supplies to the six scientists aboard the orbiting laboratory. The robot is part of a study to find out how well machines provide emotional support to people isolated over long periods of time.
Kirobo is a small robot weighing 2.2 pounds and measuring 13 inches. It has been programmed to communicate to people in Japanese and will be able to keep records of its conversations with Wakata, who is supposed to take over as ISS commander this fall.
NBC News notes that the robot, along with its Earth counterpart Mirata, are part of the Kibo Robot Project that is meant to enhance communication between robots and humans in space.
Developer Tomotaka Takahashi explained that Kirobo has the ability to remember Wakata’s face and recognize him when they meet up in space in a few months.
However, the biggest challenge will be to make the talking robot compatible with life in space. Several dozen tests will be performed on Kirobo over the course of nine months to ensure the robot’s reliability in outer space.
Japan’s unmanned HTV spacecraft are just one of several kinds of unmanned shuttles that make regular trips to resupply the ISS. Along with Japan, Russia’s unmanned Progress spacecraft and the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicles make regular trips.
NASA also has contracts with two private US companies to provide the ISS with cargo. The California-based SpaceX company has already launched two of its planned 12 delivery flights. Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation is expected to test its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft in September.