Robotnaut 2. Credit: NASA/JSC

by Angelina Carlson

Space exploration has helped us grow human knowledge and drive innovation in science and technology. Even though much of space discovery happens far from Earth, the technologies we develop to enter and survive in space have practical applications that benefit our daily lives. In a feature on agricultural tech, the World Economic Forum details how NASA-developed programmable LED lights helped improve terrestrial vertical farming. Today, vertical farming is deemed a sustainable alternative to farming that doesn’t rely on pesticides or herbicides, doesn’t need farm equipment, and uses minimal fossil fuels.

Similarly, the first moon landing impacted food production and safety standards to this day. The food industry’s near-universal adoption of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system came about because of the use of the system for astronaut food in the early days of the Apollo program. Today, this food production and safety hazard protocol has helped reduce food poisoning outbreaks from packaged goods.

As science and technology continue to develop, scientists and researchers have begun incorporating robotics into space exploration. In a previous post, we discussed how students from countries around the world were able to remotely control our Helelani analog planetary rover as part of a telerobotics lunar event hosted in the US and Canada. During the event, students from Austria were able to drive the Helelani planetary rover here in Hawai’i. Similarly, scientists and astronauts in the future may be able to control humanoid robots remotely for advanced life detection and space exploration missions.

A Recap of Robots in Space

While many exciting space robotics projects are currently in development, it’s important to remember that humans have already succeeded in sending robots on dozens of space missions. The success of NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and Curiosity rover has made way for more space robot projects to develop in the hopes of finding signs of life and habitability beyond planet Earth. Keep in mind that launching robots into space doesn’t mean we’re replacing human astronauts. Like the experts that gather data from the Curiosity rover, astronauts in the future will still work alongside these futuristic robots in the hopes of finding life somewhere in space. Below, we’ll look at some of these robots designed for life detection and space exploration.


In 2013, NASA collaborated with Apptronik to build the Valkyrie robot—an all-purpose humanoid robot. Today, based on insights from the development of Valkyrie, NASA, and Apptronik aim to launch Apollo — a humanoid robot designed to assist with tasks in space, the commercial sector, and even at home. On Earth, this would start with simple, mundane tasks and chores. In space, however, Apollo’s main role would be setting up bases for a sustained presence on planets and astronomical bodies like the moon or Mars.

Europa Clipper spacecraft in orbit around Europa.

Artist rendering of the Europa Clipper. Credit: NASA/JPL

Europa Clipper

Planned for launch in October 2024, the Europa Clipper is a NASA mission to study Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. The space craft’s primary goal will be to determine whether Europa is potentially habitable by searching for signs of essential elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur. To protect against Jupiter’s magnetic field, the Clipper is equipped with a radiation shield that will allow it to orbit the moon and study it at a safe distance.


Dragonfly is set to launch in 2027 and will be headed to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The rotorcraft lander is equipped with scientific instruments such as cameras, a mass spectrometer, and a meteorology station to help the drone study the moon’s geology, atmosphere, and habitability. Because Titan is considered geologically diverse, Dragonfly is designed to test its atmospheric composition and search for signs of life or pre-life.