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Space-bound R2 robot starts tweeting

Robonaut 2 starts social networking in advance of its upcoming mission aboard the International Space Station.

A NASA robot earmarked for duty on the International Space Station this fall has already begun tweeting about its upcoming mission.

"Check out this photo of me with the STS-133 crew. It is so nice of them to give me a ride up to ISS," Robonaut 2 tweeted this weekend at its new Twitter account, @AstroRobonaut. "R2," as the robot is nicknamed, will get shown off to reporters Wednesday at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

R2 trains for its upcoming mission. Joe Bibby/NASA

But the tweeting R2 isn't joining the STS-133 mission on the space shuttle Discovery just to keep NASA's social network entertained. The second-generation robot produced from a 3-year-old joint venture between NASA and General Motors is described as able to handle tools and interfaces more than four times faster than its predecessor.

The prototype is being billed as "the most advanced dexterous humanoid robot in existence." The first humanoid robot, R1, was put together a decade ago with the help of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency--the general idea being to build a robot that would be able to function as the equivalent of an astronaut.

NASA says the robot has enough dexterity to use the same tools now being used by astronauts. NASA expects that the robot eventually will be able to help shoulder responsibility for maintenance jobs, including those deemed repetitive or too dangerous for humans.

The original plan was to keep the robot on earth. But there was interest in seeing how R2 would perform in a microgravity environment.

The STS-133 mission is targeted to lift off in November. Space historians will note that R2 will thus become the first "humanoid robot" to reach orbit, as well as the first American-built robot to get to the space station.

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