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Kirobo the talking robot blasts into space on historic mission

(Reuters) - Kirobo, a knee-high talking robot with red boots and a black and white body, has blasted off from Japan for the International Space Station to test how machines can help astronauts with their work.

The Japanese-speaking robot, equipped with voice- and facial-recognition technology, was packed into an unmanned cargo vessel along with tons of supplies and equipment for the crew of the orbital research base.

The cargo vessel, launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan on Sunday, will arrive at the outpost on Friday, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's website.

At a recent demonstration, Kirobo said it "hoped to create a future where humans and robots live together and get along".

As it carries on the first robot-human chats in space, Kirobo's main conversation partner will be Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, who is expected to take off for the space station with six other crew members in November.

Wakata is due to take command of the complex, a $100 billion project by 15 nations, next March. Kirobo - jointly developed by the University of Tokyo, Toyota Motor Corp and Dentsu Inc - will stay in space until late 2014.

Standing 34 cm (13 inches) tall and weighing about 1 kg (2.2 pounds), Kirobo is designed to navigate in zero gravity and gets its name from "kibo", the Japanese word for "hope", and "robot".

(Reporting by John O'Callaghan; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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