By Dr. Jacob Bleacher
Dr. Jacob Bleacher is a Planetary Geologist working at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The 2011 field test is Jake’s third time as a Desert RATS crewmember.
In the image to the right, crew members Bob Behnken and Jacob Bleacher from the SEV.
One of the big parts to our test this year is trying to understand how to conduct field geology on another planet with a significant time delay between the crew and Houston. Unlike astronauts who went to the Moon or low Earth orbit, astronauts who explore objects that are farther away will not be able to speak to Houston without a delay between their question and the response. In order to enable our crew to handle this delay we are testing different ways to use 3 and 4 crewmembers between the Deep Space Habitat (DSH), the Space Explorations Vehicles (SEV), and Extra Vehicular Activities (EVA). By placing one crewmember in the DSH, that person has the ability to communicate with Houston by text messages and on communications loops that the EVA crewmembers do not hear. That way the messages that Houston send to the crew do not arrive when the crew are in the middle of an important job, like collecting a crew field note, which might cause them to miss the message. The DSH crewmember is in regular communications with the EVA crew and can receive the messages from Houston and then provide the EVA crew with those bits of information when they are prepared to receive them. Not only are we attempting to understand how to spread the crew between these assets, we are also exploring what are the best positions in which to assign the crew geologists and astronauts. It might seem that the geologist would be best used during an EVA in which they can collect and document the rocks. However, from inside the SEV the geologist can direct their fellow one or two crewmembers who are on EVA. This gives that geologist a better vantage point from which to make connections between the samples that the EVA crew are collecting and the nearby geologic features. This might provide a better overall understanding of the local geology.
As you can see, there are many things to consider when assigning your 3 or 4 crewmembers to positions between a habitat, a vehicle, and an EVA. We are only a few days into the test but we are learning many new things that we had not considered beforehand. So stay tuned as the test progresses and you might learn some of these interesting lessons with us.