The reports this weekend were breathless. Mashable said Russia was sending a “death dealing” robot with the power to shoot guns to the International Space Station. Pravda reported that the Russian cyborg, Fyodor, had frightened the West. It was like the Terminator, only in space, and only for reals.
In reality, probably not. The stories were written after the Russian deputy prime minister overseeing military and space activities, Dmitry Rogozin, posted on Facebook and Twitter about the country’s humanoid robot, Fyodor. Rogozin was proud that the robot had demonstrated the ability to shoot from both hands. “Fine motor skills and decision-making algorithms are still being improved,” he tweeted. But maybe we shouldn’t call upon Arnold Schwarzenegger to save us just yet. “Shooting exercises is a method of teaching the robot to set priorities and make instant decisions,” Rogozin added. “We are creating AI, not Terminator.”
Rogozin has previously suggested that Russia will send this robot to the space station in 2021. Pravda claims this is still the target date and that Fyodor will ride into space aboard Russia’s next-generation spacecraft, named Federation. So should NASA be concerned about an armed and lethal robot coming to the station four years from now?
Rise of the machines?
Rogozin says a lot of provocative things. Recall that in 2014, after he was among a handful of Russians sanctioned by the Obama administration during the height of the Ukraine crisis, he tweeted, “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.” Three years later, Russia is still happily taking NASA’s money for its Soyuz spacecraft. Generally, the country remains a reliable space partner.
Among his other space proclamations, Rogozin has also said, “We are coming to the Moon forever.” In reality, Russia is cutting its space budget (the next crew launch to the space station will carry just two astronauts instead of three, because Russia is paring back its crew on orbit to save money). It has no funding for a lunar program. As for the Federation spacecraft that Pravda claims will bring Fyodor into space in 2021, uncrewed test flights to the station are now unlikely before 2023, and sources recently told Russian Space Web that even this timeframe “would be practically impossible to keep.”
Conditions could get worse for the Russian space agency in a few years when United Launch Alliance stops buying RD-180 rocket engines and NASA stops buying so many Soyuz seats. The reality is that if Russia wants to do anything meaningful in space with humans, especially in deep space, it will almost certainly have to do so through a partnership with NASA or China’s space program.
Asked about the potential for Fyodor to come to the space station, NASA spokesman Dan Huot said diplomatically that the space agency would carefully consider any proposals from Russia. “NASA is interested in enhancing robotic capabilities to push the boundaries of what’s possible in human exploration and to improve lives on Earth, and is actively engaged in a number of robotic technology demonstrations aboard the International Space Station,” he said.
No, Russia isn’t sending a Terminator robot to the space station – Ars Technica