Press Release

NASA’s Desert Rats Take On Harsh Mobility Challenges

By SpaceRef Editor
September 1, 2005
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NASA’s Desert Rats Take On Harsh Mobility Challenges

Meaningful exploration in the hostile environs of the moon and Mars will depend on mobility. Tough, dependable equipment will be needed to get there, work there and get back safely.

NASA’s Desert Research and Technology Studies (RATS) “torment” some of the latest vehicles and gear in the harsh world of Arizona’s high desert. Their job is to better understand just what it takes to be mobile in a rough, unforgiving environment.

The eighth consecutive season for Desert RATS includes several firsts: the first simultaneous desert trials of two space-suited explorers; first desert trials of a new crew operations utility rover; and the first trial of a system to recharge air tanks while in use. The tests run Sept. 6 to 15 at remote field-sites outside Flagstaff, Ariz.

“NASA’s future involves returning humans to the moon and then to Mars. Field work will be the basic method of operation on these planetary surfaces,” said Joe Kosmo of NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston. He leads the study team. “Field testing prepares and provides a high-fidelity hands-on experience base for engineers and scientists to better design and operate the emerging technologies for planetary surface systems,” he added.

The Desert RATS team includes engineers and scientists from JSC and NASA’s Glenn (GRC) and Ames Research Centers in Cleveland and Moffett Field, Calif. NASA team members work with experts from industry and academia during the test cycle.

Test objectives include humans and robots working together on tasks supported by a variety of advanced space-suit prototypes; field assistant support vehicles; and science equipment. Long-distance support and coordination is provided by the Mission Operations Exploration Planning and Operations Center in Houston. Another integral element will be satellite-link webcasts with selected NASA Explorer Schools through NASA’s Digital Learning Network.

Examples of test equipment:

— An advanced “on the space suit” computer-based communications and information system. It integrates procedures-planning operations; an array microphone system for voice command and control of robotic assistant vehicles; a visual heads-up display for mapping and route planning; and life support data.

— Redesigned and upgraded liquid-air backpack systems featuring “breathe-while-recharging” features; an emergency recharge way station to support a walk-back return of space-suited crewmembers whose rover is disabled.

— Planetary rover technology test bed. The Science Crew Operations Utility Transport (SCOUT) allows onboard, teleoperation and autonomous operation modes.

— A tele-operated robotic support vehicle, “MATILDA,” serving as a visual assistant pathfinder for traverse planning and robotic, non-contamination sample retrieval.

To observe tests on either Sept. 8 or 13, reporters must contact the JSC Newsroom at: 281/483-5111, or the GRC Newsroom at: 216/433-2901, by 6 p.m. EDT, Sept. 6 for credentials. An open house for the public is planned for Sept. 16.

For information about NASA and agency programs on the Internet, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.