Desert RATS Dry-Run: Crew Blog

By Chris Looper
Chris Looper is the Chief Engineer of the EVA Branch of the Astronaut Office, and is splitting time as a test subject and Traverse Director of 2010 Desert RATS .

Today we had a practice day, referred to as a dry-run, where we were able to operate the rovers and perform a practice spacewalk. It was a very hectic day but a very good, full day of learning new things about how to make the rover work and practicing the geology sampling procedure we are to employ.

As is typical for the first day with all the various systems working together, communications through the radio network was challenging. Everything should smooth out within the next few days as all the system experts have sufficient opportunities to understand what it will take to get things working together. I gained a better appreciation today for the responsibilities of a test subject in this environment. In addition to understanding and trying to follow the plan, I will have to make a concentrated effort to ensure we (the rover A test subjects) also provide all the subjective data expected. There is a lot of it, throughout the day, before and after all the events.

Tomorrow we begin our seven-day mission portion of the overall 14 day mission. I learned some points today which should help me to take care of rover A so that it will be in good shape for days 8-14. I know most of the people participating in the test, since I have worked Desert RATS for the last few years. It makes it a comfortable environment knowing they are good people who take pride in what they do. I am also looking forward to working with Jim Rice in rover A for the next week. I have got to visit with Jim a few times over the last few years but never for any length of time. Three video links touring base camp are below. High definition video is very jiggly when you’re walking (sorry).

Desert RATS Team Ready for Traverse, Day 1

by Matt Leonard
Matt Leonard is this year’s Mission Management Team (MMT) Lead for D-RATS 2010.

Today is the first day of the desert traverse! What a great amount of effort the team has put in to getting us ready and going.

The dedication and hard work of this team shows through in everything they do. It has been a very proud time for me personally to see the Lunar Surface Systems team pitching in everywhere – working on fences, cooking lunches, preparing Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) sample bags, distributing gear and managing contact lists. It’s not the neat space stuff you might expect, but we can see where it is benefitting the whole team.

It was interesting Sunday night to see the science team all together. They’re a large group of very talented scientists, and it will be good to get their input on how the rovers work as science platforms. Watching all of the engineering teams bring their pieces together has been very interesting. The value and excellence of all of these teams is evident as their equipment comes to life.

D-Rats Mission Management Team

The Desert RATS Mission Management Team meets every day to discuss the day’s activities.

NASA Desert RATS Intern Blog : Week #1 of DRATS 2010

By Kevin Buckley and Courtney Gras, Moon Work interns

The first week of work at Desert RATS started the day after our arrival in Flagstaff on Monday, August 23. The goal of the first week was to set up the base camp and prepare for the testing that will be going on Aug. 31 – Sept 13.

As interns, our main responsibility was to help out where needed. This week was special because our work was very hands-on. We helped move equipment and set up the buildings that the scientists and engineers will work in every day. We also checked out the equipment that the scientists will be using during the tests, practiced setting up the tent that will be used to cover the rover when it rains, moved fences that the rovers will need to go through, and organized the tools and bags the crew will use during their tests.

Courtney connecting power cords

Courtney is helping set up the power cords for the air conditioning in the science connex.

Watching the whole camp come together from a few pieces was exciting, and seeing the scientists and engineers practicing together was a lot of fun.

We are getting ready for the next two weeks when the real testing will start, and things have been going well so far, so we should be ready for mission day one on Aug. 31. As interns we are looking forward to getting to participate in the testing and helping out when we are needed, and we’ll have a lot of fun doing it!

Habitat Demonstration Unit

by Tracy Gill
Tracy Gill is on the management team of the Habitat Demonstration Unit (HDU) project, which brings together a multi-center team of NASA architects, scientists and engineers, working together to develop sustainable living quarters, workspaces, and laboratories for next-generation space missions.

This is an exciting time for the Habitat Demonstration Unit (HDU) team as we are deploying our first hardware to the field for the Desert RaTS 2010 campaign. We have built a version of a Habitat called the Pressurized Excursion Module (PEM). In exploration architecture studies, the PEM would actually ride across a planetary surface atop the ATHLETE rover in concert with Space Exploration Vehicle rovers. For Desert RATS, it would be extremely difficult and costly to come up with something to transport an element as large as the HDU-PEM across the desert in Earth’s gravity, so we decided to have the rovers rendezvous with the PEM at two different locations in this year’s activities.

We are pretty proud of the HDU-PEM contribution to Desert RATS. We built a coalition of the willing from 7 different NASA centers where we leveraged existing technology development projects and center innovation funding and strategically put them together to build an integrated technology and architecture test bed. We spent most of the past year in JSC’s Building 220 taking PowerPoint concepts and turning them into real hardware. Of course it got crazy at the end of the flow, as we rushed to put things together in “final” configuration before we conducted dry run exercises at the JSC rock yard, and as it turns out, we’ll actually see the “final” configuration for this year’s version when we get to Arizona and install a few last minute items like additional lighting and work platforms.

HDU, Airlock and SEV

Habitat Demonstration Unit – Pressurized Excursion Module, Airlock, and Space Exploration Vehicle Rover during JSC Rock Yard Operations Aug 9, 2010

We actually got the HDU-PEM and its airlock packed and loaded for transportation on August 16 and on the way to Arizona August 17. It was anticipated that we needed about a week to transport a super-sized load like the HDU because of the restrictions in place for an object of this width and height. We’ll be unloading and starting our setup on August 25, and we’re ready to roll to support Desert RATS 2010.

HDU at the JSC Rock Yard

Loading the Habitat Demonstration Unit at the JSC Rock Yard on Aug 16, 2010 for transportation.

HDU and Airlock departing JSC by truck

The Habitat Demonstration Unit and Airlock departing JSC on August 17, 2010 for Desert RATS in Arizona.

Virtual Space Explorers: D-RATS Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) in Second Life

Caledonia Heron

Caledonia Heron is suited up for a Desert RATS 3-D mission in Second Life.
+ Download a guide to getting started and locating Desert RATS in Second Life (PDF)

By Caledonia Heron
July 30, 2010

(NASA Virtual News) – The view across the desert looks rocky and desolate when I gauge the track for the SEV rover. I put it in drive. The base camp tents and rovers recede as I roll out onto the terrain. I’m on my way… virtually.

Virtually? Yes, I’m suited up for a D-RATS mission in Second Life, a 3D immersive world where you can make and do most anything. The D-RATS virtual sim puts you right in the middle of role-playing NASA’s research and testing of lunar and Martian terrain vehicles. Login and you can check out the interactive portions of the SEV and then drive it around the desert. You are now a virtual space explorer!

Desert RATS in Second Life

A view of the NASA eEducation Island in Second Life, showing the Space Exploration Vehicle.

The rover yard and D-RATS are part of NASA eEducation island which is home to analog missions, spacecraft and satellites. The island hosts D-RATS and NEEMO plus an ANSMET research station, microbial mats, and black smokers. There are satellites, rockets and planes. You can ride a raindrop through the water cycle or hunt for meteorites! Teleport skyward to view and learn about the Hubble or ISS. At NASA eEd island you can learn about NASA’s missions and research while immersed in the 3D world around you.

Many people participate in NASA’s events and missions in this 3D distance learning environment. Co-located in space and time, there is a real sense of being with each other and collaborating as you work on tasks. Join us for an event or visit the summer fair to see virtual NASA at work! NASA education interests are welcome to contact the LT Technical Office to have their projects represented. The NASA eEducation island is sponsored by NASA Learning Technologies, an education technology incubator located in Second Life.

Starting Moon Work Internship Week #1 and #2

Kevin Buckley

Kevin Buckley is an intern supporting Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) and NASA JSC.

DRATS Internship Week 1:

This week I started out by meeting my mentors, Matt and Jason, and I am working in the Lunar Surface Systems group, specifically making preparations for the Mission Management Team (MMT), of which I will be a part during the traverse in Arizona. Early in the week I spent time meeting people in the office and getting acquainted with the work, but mostly I worked on creating a template for our MMT meetings, which would take place for the first time next week during the Dry Runs.

DRATS Internship Week 2:

This week we were pretty busy, the dry-runs were being conducted all week, so we came in early and stayed late a couple of the days. Courtney arrived on Monday and she helped me finish up the template for the MMT meetings, which we led on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday, we didn’t have an MMT meeting, so we helped out the rover crew by riding along inside as they did their traverses and taking notes and pictures, which was a lot of fun. It was really cool to ride inside of the rover and see how the crew functions. Also Courtney and I were interviewed by the film crew they had for outreach to seventh-graders which was pretty cool too. So far on the whole the internship is a lot of fun, and I’m learning the process NASA uses, and the similarities to my capstone project that got me here.

Interview about internship in Building 9 High Bay

Interview about internship in Building 9 High Bay

DRATS Internship Week 3:

This week was the week between dry-run weeks, so our tasks focused mainly on preparing for the next set of dry runs and further our preparation for the field. Jason, who has been primarily our direct point of contact, is at NASA Ames this week on another project. Courtney and I have been managing our work and organizing our tasks ourselves, which has lent to the feel of a real work setting. Along with continuing our work from the previous weeks, we also got to help out with some other tasks, such as to help install battery packs and shore up some wiring on one of the shirtsleeve EVA backpacks. Our MMT meeting template has been mostly finalized, we’ve spent considerable time putting together a master contact list, and we have been receiving quotes for things we’ll need in the field, such as cranes, forklifts, etc. Overall it’s been a productive week, and we’re learning the process and way things work more each day.

Shirtsleeve EVA Backpack

Courtney and I were working on this Shirtsleeve Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) Backpack.


WASHINGTON – A group of scientists experienced in working in the harsh conditions of the high Canadian Arctic this week began the 14th field season of the Haughton-Mars Project, HMP-2010. This year’s field season includes a three-week effort to assess concepts for future planetary exploration, including crew activities, robots and mission control.


During HMP-2010, researchers will study how lunar robotic “follow-up” activities can improve human exploration; they will use the Haughton Crater on Devon Island, Canada to simulate an approximately 75-mile long robotic convoy from the Shackleton Crater to Mount Malapert in the south polar region of the moon.


“Explorers, such as geologists, often find themselves with a set of observations they would have liked to make, or samples they would have liked to take, if only they had been able to stay longer at a site,” said Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. “Our work this year is to study how remotely operated robots – perhaps even vehicles previously used for crew transport – can be used to perform follow-up work.”


Using robots for follow-up work could save astronauts from having to perform tedious, repetitive or very time-consuming activities. Additionally, robots could make measurements that complement or supplement those initially taken by humans. According to scientists and mission planners, there will be substantial amounts of time between crewed missions to use robots to perform research work on the moon.


At HMP-2010, NASA will deploy K10 robots, developed by the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames, which are equipped with a variety of instruments including a 3-D scanning lidar, color imagers, spectrometers and ground-penetrating radar. The K10s will perform follow-up work scenarios, such as systematic mapping of above- and below-ground structures and characterizing the rocks, soil and landscape of key areas at Haughton Crater in support of the Moon and Mars Analog Mission Activities Program in the Science Mission Directorate and the Exploration Technology Development Program in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington.


NASA also will conduct a series of experiments designed to examine how future lunar surface systems, such as crew rovers, might be robotically repositioned from one location to a new rendezvous location with astronauts.


”Poor lighting and low resolution of satellite imagery can make a planned route look very simple from above, but once we are on the ground we can see obstacles we couldn’t before that make the route unexpectedly challenging,” said Matt Leonard, principal investigator of the Lunar Surface System (LSS) experiment at Haughton Crater. “We will study how to use ground robots to scout alternative safe routes, categorize hard-to-detect obstacles and examine how best to prepare for venturing into unknown terrain,” he added.


In addition to working around unexpected roadblocks during future planetary convoys, the LSS experiment team will study how a robot on a set route with a fixed schedule can conduct science tasks, such as sampling or gathering images. To do this, the team will work with a K10 robot and HMP’s MARS-1 Humvee Rover field exploration vehicle, to simulate a large planetary crew vehicle equipped with science instruments. The LSS experiment is one of several Exploration Analog Missions being conducted this summer by NASA’s Exploration System Mission Directorate.


“When you are on a tight schedule to go from one location to another, or have to follow a specific route, it’s critical to determine the potential cost of making an unplanned stop or detour,” said, Pascal Lee, director of the Haughton-Mars Project at NASA Ames, chairman of the Mars Institute, Moffett Field, Calif., and a planetary scientist at the SETI Institute, Mountain View, Calif. “The Shackleton to Malapert traverse and future planetary traverses elsewhere may have only limited time for opportunistic science, so we need to understand what decision-making process will yield the highest science return.”


The Haughton-Mars Project is an international, multidisciplinary field research project focused on the scientific study of the Haughton impact crater and surrounding terrain on Devon Island in Canada’s high Arctic. According to scientists, the site’s polar desert setting, geological features, and microbiology, make Haughton Crater a good site for moon and Mars analog studies. The HMP is managed by the Mars Institute in collaboration with the SETI Institute.


For more information about the Haughton Mars Project, visit:


For more information about the NASA’s Exploration Analog Missions, visit:


For more information about the NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group, visit: