Today marked the first day of the first run of a new analog mission at NASA: Autonomous Mission Operations. The Autonomous Mission Operations – or AMO – tests look at the capability of a crewed spacecraft to plan and fly a mission with minimum support from ground. As human exploration moves farther and farther away from Earth, the constant communication we currently enjoy with the crew of the International Space Station will become impossible. Communication from Earth to the crew will take longer and longer to reach its destination – and the same will be true of the answers the crew sends back.
The communications delays that astronauts would experience on the way to a Lagrange Point, asteroid, Mars or other distant destinations will make it necessary to change the capabilities of spacecraft, change the roles and responsibilities of ground and crew and the ways that ground and crew interact during the mission. The purpose of the AMO project is to define what some of those changes might be.
To do so, AMO will run two series of tests this summer. The first is taking place May 15-18, and the second June 12-17. During those time frames, four different crews made up of one astronaut commander and several space shuttle or International Space Station flight controllers acting as flight engineers will run three, two-hour mission scenarios a day. Working inside the Habitat Demonstration Unit (which has been dubbed Cabot for the AMO tests) at Johnson Space Center, the crews will take turns working through the same timelines under three different simulated time delays: 1.2 seconds (what we’d experience at the second Lagrange Point), 50 seconds (the communication delay for an asteroid), and five minutes (how long it takes to say hello to Mars).
As part of the simulation, the commanders of the four crews will send blog updates throughout the course of the mission. Today’s blogger and commander (of crew A) is astronaut Rex Walheim.
15 May, Rex Walheim, Entry 1:
Crew is in good health and good spirits. Today we are working IRED Cleaning, water transfer, filter changeout and camera surveys. We are working a little slowly as we get acclimated to the habitat. MCC is treating us well. Food is good.
15 May, Rex Walheim, Entry 2:
I was tasked with finding the ovoid. There was a slight mutiny onboard as the other crewmembers found out what this task was and decided they wanted to be involved in this Easter egg hunt as described in the Limerick below:
There once was a crew on the Cabot
That searched for the egg of a rabbit
Inside was a sweet
Just one tiny treat
So whoever first found it would grab it
(Mission Manager’s Note: Stowage and Inventory on the space station is something that the crew and ground consistently monitor and manage. In spaceflight, staying organized and keeping the proper items in stock is critical. Occasionally, we find that items have gone missing or have been tucked in a location that wasn’t accurately recorded. To simulate this for AMO, we have a “MISSING-ITEM-SEARCH” scheduled. The crew is looking for a piece of Environmental and Life Support “equipment” that had been noted as MIA. In reality, the missing “equipment” was a plastic egg filled with candy that we hid somewhere inside the Deep Space Habitat. We called it an ovoid canister. The crew reports when/if they find the missing item and the stowage location to the Mission Control Center. It’s a fun task, but mimics a real-life scenario.)
15 May, Rex Walheim, Entry 3:
Crew feeling well. Procedures going well. Almost feels like we have been here before. 50 second time delay in both directions. It is about on the borderline where you can either press on autonomously, or wait for the ground to tell you what to do during an off nominal situation.
Ovoid found and consumed!
Follow along with the AMO tests via Facebook at www.facebook.com/nasa.amo.