Russia sent a strange passenger to join the International Space Station. It is a robot measuring more or less 1.80 m and weighing more than a hundred pounds. It is a humanoid-shaped robot that will help the men who are on mission on this International Space Station. This robot is called Fyodor. But why did you choose to send a robot, not a human? According to Alain Jorissen, a member of the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics of the Faculty of Sciences of the ULB, it is a question of risk. "The Russian space agency has decided to send a new version of the Soyuz rocket, and when we send a new rocket, there is always a risk that it does not work exactly as planned. So, to avoid endangering human life, the Russian space agency preferred to put a robot in their place. And then, to make profitable, there is always the idea to see what a robot can achieve in zero gravity. In this case, it is announced that he is able to handle screwdrivers and keys, and that he can assist the astronauts, " says the university expert.

About Fyodor's mission is first and foremost to help the astronauts on board the station. But, it is also a test phase, before considering using this humanoid more autonomously, to go further in the interplanetary space, as Alain Jorissen explains: "The risks are ionizing radiation from the solar wind, for example, to go to the moon, it takes a few days, and if there is no solar storm, that's not too much of a problem, but if we are in a solar storm, they are energy protons sent by the Sun that may irradiate astronauts.The problem is for long-term missions to Mars, for example, where there you have to stay nine months in space . "

The exploration of the solar system with robots … Nothing new.

Thus, the future of the robot in space would be to allow the human being to send a machine that has its own shape, but which does not undergo the same physical laws as us in terms of biology and health, and who can stay X months or X years without eating and who can go much further than a human could go. "What you need to know is that we're talking a lot about this robot right now, but the exploration of the solar system has been done with robots for 40 years." To begin with, there was exploration of the surface of Mars by the Viking probes in the 1970s, they were already robots.The exploration of the Titan surface by the European Space Agency in 2005 was done by a robot.They simply do not have the humanoid shape because , especially during the trip to the International Space Station, there was a cosmonaut on the ground who received all the information from the robot's censors and who could perform the manual movements that the robot had to do, " says Alain Jorissen.

But why did you give Fyodor a form of humanoid? "It's because he has to copy the human movements in this case, he simply imitates them, artificial intelligence is quite limited in his case."

"A geopolitical and competitive aspect, always present"

Finally, is there still this race to space between the great powers as at the time of the cold war, or this period is over? "I would say there are two aspects. For example, for scientific missions, there is still collaboration. To give you an example, a mission we know well at the ULB is the Gaia mission, which maps the sky. It is a mission of the European Space Agency, but used a Soyuz rocket to be launched. So that's a good example of cooperation. Now, for more strategic aspects, it is clear that there is always the race between the great powers. I usually say that the exploration of space is a bit of geostrategy and I compare it to the great voyages of exploration across the oceans in the years 1400-1500 with Columbus and Magellan, where it was the hegemony of a power over the oceans. We must imagine that it remains a little the same thing, but with the distant space, or near the conquest of the Moon or missions on Mars. But it's not science, it's geostrategy. And here it is clear that there is a geopolitical and competitive aspect that remains present. "

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