It Isn’t Mars, but It’ll Do for Now

Mars and the Moon can be tough on spacesuits. So can Arizona’s high desert, and it’s a lot easier to get to. That’s why a NASA-led team will head for sites near Flagstaff, Ariz., this month to try out equipment — spacesuits, rovers and science gear. The tests could help America pursue the Vision for Space Exploration to return to the Moon and travel to Mars. The desert has its attractions. Among them are sand, grit, dust, rough terrain and extreme temperatures. The team will go there because these conditions are like some that may be encountered on the Moon or Mars.

From NASA:

It Isn’t Mars, but It’ll Do for Now

Mars and the Moon can be tough on spacesuits. So can Arizona’s high desert, and it’s a lot easier to get to.

That’s why a NASA-led team will head for sites near Flagstaff, Ariz., this month to try out equipment — spacesuits, rovers and science gear. The tests could help America pursue the Vision for Space Exploration to return to the Moon and travel to Mars.

The desert has its attractions. Among them are sand, grit, dust, rough terrain and extreme temperatures. The team will go there because these conditions are like some that may be encountered on the Moon or Mars.

A variety of potential extraterrestrial equipment will get a trial run. A remote-controlled space tractor-trailer, tiny computer screens mounted inside spacesuit helmets, a robotic geologist named ”Matilda,” two mobile geology labs, and components of an out-of-this-world wireless network are to be tested.

Crews wearing prototype advanced spacesuits will use and evaluate the equipment for two weeks starting Sept. 14.

The Desert Research and Technology Studies (RATS) team is led by engineers and scientists from NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, and the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. But it includes participants from other NASA centers, universities and private industry.

”For field testing, the desert may be the closest place on Earth to Mars, and it provides valuable hands-on experience,” said Joe Kosmo of JSC. He is senior project engineer for the experiments.

”This work will focus on the human and robotic interaction we’ll need for future planetary exploration,” he said, ”and it will let us evaluate new developments in engineering, science and operations.”

Engineers in the Exploration Planning and Operations Center (ExPOC) at JSC will provide mission control-type monitoring of the field tests. Equipment to be tested includes:

— New spacesuit helmet-mounted speakers and microphones for communications;

— A ”field assistant” electric tractor that can follow suited test subjects and be guided with spacesuit-mounted controls;

— A wireless network for use on other planets that can relay data and messages among spacewalkers, robots and rovers as they explore the surface;

— A two-wheeled vehicle that could be pulled by the electric tractor to carry astronauts;

— An autonomous robotic support vehicle called ”Matilda” that can retrieve geologic samples;

n Analytical equipment mounted on two mobile geology labs.

The team will conduct a series of live satellite link videoconferences between researchers in the field and students at eight NASA Explorer Schools. Three of the videoconferences — at 2 p.m. EDT Sept. 16, 1 p.m. EDT Sept. 21 and 2 p.m. EDT Sept. 23 — will also be available to Internet audiences through Web casts.

The 2004 Desert-RATS team includes participants from NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., the NASA Research and Education Network team, Oceaneering International Inc., Hamilton Sundstrand Inc., ILC/Dover Inc., the University of Cincinnati, the University of Maryland and Worchester Polytechnic Institute.


The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Have a question? Let us know.

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