Desert RATS 2011: Mid-way Report

Geologist Jose Hurtado takes a spacewalk in front of one of the Space Exploration Vehicles on day six of Desert RATS 2011. Photo courtesy of NASA/Regan Geeseman.

NASA's Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) crew has reached the mid-way point in the 14th annual Desert RATS mission, conducted at Black Point Lava Flow in the Arizona desert. On Aug. 30, the crew — consisting of engineers, astronauts, scientists, and technicians from across NASA and throughout industry and academia — began integrated mission simulations to evaluate different conditions that will enable human and robotic exploration of an asteroid.

So far, much of the testing has focused on crew operations inside of the Deep Space Habitat (DSH). For three nights each, Crew A and Crew B slept overnight in the DSH to test independent crew operations and the habitability of the xHab Loft and Hygiene Module. Testing these elements is crucial for understanding what logistics and living quarters humans will need during deep-space exploration missions.

The Desert RATS crew has also successfully tested communication links through the European Science and Technology Centre (ESTEC). With primary science backroom support from mission control in Houston, the ESTEC provided secondary science backroom operations support from the Netherlands. The crew is testing various communication methods, including those with imposed 50-second, one-way time delays, making it impossible to carry on a normal conversation.

The science team, the DSH crew, and the crew performing simulated spacewalks communicated with each other via text messaging and more complex methods using digital imaging and geochemistry data. Testing multiple communication techniques with imposed barriers is crucial for determining which combinations will successfully support mission operations.

On Saturday, Sept. 3, the DRATS crew welcomed their newest crew member, Robonaut2 (R2). R2 reunited with its mobility base, Centaur 2, and will begin its participation in the mission this week working side-by-side with the crew and also performing remote operations.

To stay connected with R2 and the rest of the Desert RATS crew, follow the mission on Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr, the Analogs Blog, and check out the NASA Analog YouTube site for video highlights of this year's mission.

One of the Space Exploration Vehicle cabins is installed on a Chariot chassis during the set up for the 2011 Desert RATS analog mission. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Geologist Jake Bleacher takes notes as astronaut Bob Behnken drives the Space Exploration Vehicle on an excursion. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Geologist Carolyn Tewksbury-Christle gathers a sample during a spacewalk while attached to the Astronaut Positioning System (APS) or the arm. Photo courtesy of NASA/Regan Geeseman.

Human Factors Lead Dr. Robert Howard monitors the crew using the camera viewing system created for the DSH. Photo courtesy of NASA/Regan Geeseman.

Dr. Megan McArthur works in the DSH on an assigned task to practice maintenance and repairs. Photo courtesy of NASA/Regan Geeseman.

Crew members use the science glovebox inside the DSH to examine samples collected during spacewalks for the 2011 Desert RATS mission. Photo courtesy of NASA.

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