|Posted on Sep 02, 2010 10:21:52 AM | NASA Testing for Human Space Exploration | 0 Comments ||
by Dean Eppler
Dean Eppler is the D-RATS Science Lead.
Total chaos – like what you've probably experienced if you've ever put on a school play, or gone on a long, complicated family vacation. That's what it's like to start up a complicated test like Desert RATS. My name is Dean Eppler, and I'm a geologist with NASA, one of the folks responsible for organizing and helping run Desert RATS. My job is something called "science operations development" – simply put, it's using my background as a field geologist and space suit test subject to figure out how we're going to do science with crewmembers on planetary bodies throughout the Solar System.
Field geology, when we do it on the Earth, is a relatively simple operation – you go out into the field, either by yourself or with a field assistant, walk the ground and find the bedrock, and enter descriptions of the rocks on your maps and in your field notebooks. In space, the environment and the ways we cope with space add complexity that takes a lot of testing and practice on Earth before we're ready to try it in space. For instance, when the Space Shuttle or International Space Station crews go into space, it's only after literally years of planning, practicing, making mistakes and re-practicing. This process of training is critical, because nobody does a complex thing like get ready for spaceflight right the first time.
Here at Desert RATS, we're doing the same thing – bringing new hardware into the field, putting crewmembers in the vehicles, and doing a dress rehearsal of our plans to see what doesn't work. Monday was the first day of our operation – something we call a "dry run," which is like a dress rehearsal – and like all dress rehearsals, we find out what things worked (and lots did) and what things did not work as we'd hoped. This included getting a group of scientists together who do geology on the Earth, and working with the engineers and crew members to fix problems, find out what doesn't work, and learn to improvise to make the mission a success.
The one critical element of a successful test is teamwork – a complex mission is based on many people's talents. Here in the field, we have engineers, scientists, educators, astronauts and medics, and we all need to work together to make the test work. The other critical element is patience – it takes many years of testing, training, reworking and retesting before a mission is ready to go into space, and the whole team has to be patient when things go wrong, to work each problem to get operations rolling again. Twelve days from now, our test will be over, and we will have learned many things to make next year's test successful – including how we can all work together to solve problems and achieve a common goal.
Tags : Analogs, Desert Research and Technology Studies (RATS), General, field testing