Earlier this month at the 17th China International Industry Fair in Shanghai, China’s space agency proudly showed off a model of its home grown Mars probe, including an orbiter and a landing rover. Elsewhere at the fair those present were also privileged to witness the unveiling of a brand-new space robot that looked uncannily similar to Iron Man, the Marvel superhero played by Robert Downey Jr in the ever profitable movie franchise.
Following in the footsteps of other lookalike robots, this one is called Xiaotian, meaning “little sky” and has been developed by state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., the nation’s main space contractor.
Xiaotian is described as a new type of robot that can cope with a variety of harsh space environments including zero gravity, radiation and extreme temperatures. Developers were ambitious, envisaging that the robot can work on space stations, lunar landings and unmanned space probes, eventually replacing humans on such space missions.
The robot does have flexible arms and hands that enable it to do anything human hands can do, from picking up a pen to replacing an electrical connector.
Xiaotian unfortunately, if quite unsurprisingly, won’t be tagging along on the Mars mission in 2020, he also lacks an arc reactor.
While the goals of the Chinese unmanned Mars mission don’t include Xiaotian, they do include comprehensive remote sensing and even a landing on the surface, said Niu Shengda, a satellite scientist with the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology.
China has been working hard on an ambitious space program, although the last attempt at reaching Mars was in 2011 and on that occasion the probe failed to even leave Earth’s orbit.
By Daniel Paul