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With Shuttle Program Ending, What’s Next For NASA?

By Stuart Boslow, CBS 11 News
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HOUSTON (CBSDFW.COM) – While today’s shuttle launch will be the last “blast off” for the foreseeable future, that doesn’t mean the folks at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will be getting a break any time soon.  CBS11 was the only North Texas station allowed access to see what NASA’s doing when the shuttle program ends.

From new human-like robots, to a new breed of space exploration vehicles, even though the shuttle program is ending, there’s still a lot to do at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“It’s a dream come true, I mean, it’s something that I can’t believe I get to go to work everyday and do,” said JD Yamokoski, lead engineer for one of NASA’s new projects – Robonaut Two, or R2 for short.  R2 is a collaborative creation between NASA and car maker General Motors.

“It’s safe to work around, and humans are meant to work right alongside – elbow to elbow,” Yamokoski said.

Complete with full dexterity – just like a human hand – R2’s purpose will be to assist astronauts with their daily upkeep activities in space.

“Cleaning handrails, replacing air filters, all those upkeep things that are necessary to keep that station up and running,” he said.

In fact, another R2 recently became the first humanoid robot in space.  It’s already on board the International Space Station where astronauts there are excited to start working with it.

“We’re really looking forward to understanding how he works and how he can work with us,” said NASA Astronaut Cady Coleman.  “It’s a really good opportunity to help understand the interface between humans and robotics here in space.”

Robonaut engineers say they’ll actually be powering up the R2 on board the ISS sometime this month to begin working with him.  And, while R2 will work mainly inside, NASA’s new Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) will work outside.

“This is in our future, and this a capability the agency wants to have as a place the crew can explore out of,” said Bill Bluethman, the Mobility Lead for the SEV program.

Along with cameras around the body, the entire cabin can pivot giving its driver a 360 degree view of his or her surroundings.

“It’s really for exploring space outside of lower Earth orbit whether that be surface applications, or in space applications such as asteroids,” Bluethman said.

The hope is that when the U.S. returns to space, this vehicle will be driving across the surface of the moon, and eventually even Mars.

“Mars would be the ultimate goal, but there are steps before that,” Bluethman said.  Steps all of the engineers and scientists at Johnson Space Center are eager to begin taking.

So, what’s next for NASA?  Read more about other projects they’re currently working on.

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