Obama checks up on new 'robonaut'


A Nasa robotics systems engineer checks a 'robonaut' at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida (AP)

US President Barack Obama has called the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, and he could not resist asking whether they were putting their new robot to work washing the dishes.

Mr Obama said the new robonaut – named R2 – was getting a lot of attention on Earth.

He asked the Discovery crew whether they were assigning the robot a list of chores, but crew members said R2 was not even out of his packing foam yet.

That led Mr Obama to implore them: “Come on, guys, unpack the guy!”

In his call on Thursday, Mr Obama also saluted the astronauts for their work to keep the space station running so smoothly. And he paid tribute to the Discovery space shuttle, which is being retired after this flight.

Nasa plans to keep the robonaut boxed up on the International Space Station until long after Discovery departs with its crew of six.

Flight director Royce Renfrew said after Mr Obama’s call that was still the plan.

R2 was designed to be an astronaut helper, taking care of simple, monotonous chores. Its arrival at the space station was delayed four months because of Discovery’s prolonged grounding.

On Thursday, Nasa managers added a thirteenth day to Discovery’s mission, which already had been stretched earlier in the week to 12.

The extra two days means Discovery will have spent 365 days in space, over 39 missions, by the time landing day comes around next Wednesday.

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