DRATS Mission Day 5


By Dr. Jose Hurtado, professor of geology at the University of Texas at El Paso and crew member  

Image shows Jose doing an Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) with the Space Exploration Vehicle in the background.

 This is my third year participating in Desert RATS.  In 2009 I was on the science team and worked with both a robotic reconnaissance experiment using a robot called K10 and with the traverse planning for a 2-week long mission using the SEV (Space Exploration Vehicle) rovers.  Last year, I was on the crew of SEV A during a week-long geological traverse from the remote basecamp located at SP mountain to the main base camp at Black Point Lava Flow.  This year I am one of the four geologists working in the Deep Space Habitat and testing asteroid exploration scenarios using both the SEV rovers. 

We just finished week 1 of Desert RATS 2011.  My crew has spent most of our time working in the Deep Space Habitat (DSH), including a 3-day long stay we just completed yesterday.  Our time in the DSH has focused on evaluating the inside volume and configuration of the laboratory and living quarters for a long-duration mission, such as to an asteroid.

 Living in the DSH has been a fun experience and it is exciting to know that our work and opinions will have a role in shaping future exploration.  We begin each morning with a virtual briefing with Houston where we are given our day’s schedule of tasks, including some we can schedule ourselves.  Throughout the day our various tasks can include: exercising; doing education and public outreach events; maintenance and cleaning of the habitat interior; diagnosing and fixing equipment; medical operations; bioscience experiments; and analysis of rock samples collected during EVAs (extravehicular activities, or “spacewalks”) by our Crew B counterparts.

 I’ve spent most of my time doing the latter using the GeoLab (below).  The GeoLab comprises a glovebox in which samples can be handled and studied in a controlled environment.  On one end is mini-airlock through which new samples can be passed from the outside and other the other end is another mini-airlock for moving samples out once they have been worked on.  In between, are several stations for characterizing geologic materials: a scale; rulers for measuring; a camera for macroscopic images; a microscope for very detailed images; an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer for measuring the chemical composition of rocks; and a multispectral microscopic imager for taking detailed ultraviolet-visibile-infrared photographs of rocks to determine their mineral composition.  As I work on a sample, I’m in communication with a support team in Houston who guide me through procedures and who assimilate the data I provide them.  It’s been interesting working with the GeoLab because we are collecting real scientific data in a way similar to what we’d do at an asteroid or on the Moon or Mars.  I’ve even analyzed several samples that I collected myself on EVAs earlier last week!

 Life in the DSH during the last few days has also been interesting and fun.  My Crew A crewmates (Megan, Kjell, and Jon) and I have shared a spacious upstairs habitat that includes private bunks, a well-stocked galley, exercise equipment, work tables, computer workstations, and even a projector and screen for watching videos.  Living in close-quarters where crewmembers have to cooperate and closely interact is something any future long-duration spaceflight will require.  Our short stay in the DSH gave us a flavor for how suitable the current configuration is and what improvements could be made.

 I’m looking forward to the rest of Desert RATS 2011.  This week, Crews A and B effectively change places, with Crew A doing several days of EVA operations with the SEVs and Crew B trying out the DSH.  Although I enjoyed my time in the DSH, I love doing field geology and working with the rovers, so the next few days will be exciting.  I’m also very interested to learn about how Crew B interacts with the DSH.