By Dr. Stan Love
Dr. Stanley G. Love is a NASA Astronaut. He completed his first spaceflight on the crew of STS-122, logging over 306 hours in space, including over 15 Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) hours in two spacewalks.
September 8, 2010
I’ve finished my tour of duty aboard Rover B for the first week of Desert RATS, and returned home to Houston. The mission was very busy, but now there’s time to reflect on the experience and write about it.
Although we were rolling across plains of waving grass with yellow flowers under sunny blue skies, the rover journey was surprisingly similar to the experience I had flying in space on Space Shuttle mission STS-122. The living quarters were small, the preserved food was very much like the menu aboard the Space Shuttle, and the flow of each day’s carefully scripted and timelined operations was familiar. There were differences, of course: getting ready for a walk outside took minutes instead of hours, and the backpack we wore to simulate a space suit weighed 35 pounds, not 350!
Another difference between D-RATS and a space mission is that a simulation on Earth has some room for fun. So the fuzzy dice we hung from the front cockpit ceiling of Rover B were thought to be amusing rather than unprofessional, and the cow skull we zip-tied to the roof was hilarious instead of an embarrassment.
Like a space mission, however, the hallmark of the D-RATS experience is serious work. Our crew work days were fifteen hours long. We had no time to watch the DVDs we’d brought for evening entertainment. We kept a constant eye on the clock, with miles of slow driving and three geological sampling EVAs to complete before the hard deadline at the end of each day. We also kept very busy balancing the engineering and human-factors testing of the rover with the scientific goals of the expedition.
D-RATS is still running. We won’t find out until afterward how well it went and how much we learned from it. But it was a great experience and I hope they invite me back next year!
Astronaut Stan Love in the foreground of an amazing view of a crater during Mission Day 5.
Astronaut Stan Love talks to scientists at base camp and describes one of the rocks he finds on Mission Day 6.