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Robots manning a space station might read like science fiction, but this could be a reality sooner than later. NASA has already been testing robots called ‘Astrobee’, which work on the International Space Station (ISS). These three cube-shaped free-flying robots began working independently alongside astronauts on the space station. One reason why robots will be critical to future space station missions is that these stations will be located at quite a distance from Earth. For context, ISS orbits the Earth at an altitude of approximately 400 kilometres above the surface of Earth where distance in communication is not an issue. But in contrast, NASA’s proposed Gateway space station will orbit the Moon, which is an average of 384,400 kilometres away from our planet. In such scenarios, robots could solve many of the problems. But getting the robots to work in space is not so easy – even though they might work perfectly fine in the labs as NASA’s experience with Astrobee showed. “The environment on ISS is pretty dynamic. Things change day to day with bags moving, and lighting conditions changing. This made it difficult for the robot to navigate the environment. We had to redesign a lot of the software and algorithms that go into this vision-based navigation and ultimately, we got it right,” said Jose Benavides, project manager for the Astrobee project at NASA.