Research and Technology Studies (RATS) 2012: Mission Day 2

By 2012 Research and Technology Studies (RATS) crew member David Coan, an engineer with United Space Alliance at NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Mission Day 2 was an exciting day for the pilot in all of us. We changed plans up from our usual days of collecting rocks out on a “spacewalk” (Extra Vehicular Activity or EVA) to do some more challenging flying tasks. Our new mission today was to pilot the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) down to several different asteroids that spin at a variety of rates. These asteroids varied from relatively easy, slowly spinning objects to ones that moved at rates such that the ground seemed to whiz by quickly underneath the spacecraft.

The Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) viewed from outside during the RATS simulated mission; video screens in front of the MMSEV windows project images of the asteroid as crew members pilot the MMSEV. Photo credit: NASA

The Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) viewed from outside during the RATS simulated mission; video screens in front of the MMSEV windows project images of the asteroid as crew members pilot the MMSEV. Photo credit: NASA

Once we rendezvoused with our target on the ground, we had to manually pilot the MMSEV to station keep, or in other words hold the spacecraft in one small spot such that an EVA crewmember on the end of the arm could collect samples. Our station keeping goal was to keep the spacecraft to within a half meter of a given location. While that may sound easy, when the ground is moving quickly under you in unexpected directions, and you have limited visual cues out the windows, it becomes challenging to hold position in one spot. This is made even more complicated by trying to maneuver the spacecraft manually in all six axis (forward/back, left/right, up/down, roll, pitch, and yaw).

Once we completed our planned flying evaluations, we even had the opportunity to try out some potential techniques for holding the MMSEV steady at a worksite. This technique had us use a telescoping pole (‘stinger’) sticking out the front of the vehicle to help ‘stick’ us to the ground. Basically, we flew the MMSEV directly at the asteroid and pushed the ‘stinger’ into the ground, using light thrust to keep it buried. In theory, this would help us stay in one location, though the asteroid rotation rates made it challenging to stay balanced on our spacecraft sized pogo stick. But, it all made for a fun and exciting of day of piloting on an asteroid.

Research and Technology Studies (RATS) 2012: Mission Day 1

By 2012 Research and Technology Studies (RATS) crew member David Coan, an engineer with United Space Alliance at NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Trevor and I started the day by getting sealed up in the Multi-MissionSpace Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) to kick off the RATS 2012 simulated asteroid mission. Thevehicle looks rather small from the outside, but on the inside it seemsto be just roomy enough. Packing can be a little tricky, since there’sjust enough space crammed into every conceivable location, but we got itall in with the help of our Human Factors guru. Once settled in thecabin, we got down to the day’s mission.

Our goal was to virtually “fly” down to theasteroid and have one of us go out on a spacewalk (an Extra Vehicular Activity or EVA) to collect some rock samples. I started off flying theMMSEV, and Trevor headed out the door. To go on an EVA, Trevor used thesuitports in the back of the MMSEV, where his spacesuit was attached onthe outside. He opened the inner hatch, climbed into the suit, closedthe hatch, and then was off on his EVA.

View from inside the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) as the simulated asteroid mission is running. Photo credit: NASA

View from inside the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) as the simulated asteroid mission is running on video screens. Photo credit: NASA

To simulate being on EVA,Trevor headed up to the Virtual Reality Lab, where he donned goggles thatmade it appear to him as if he were near the asteroid. Having Trevorsettled on the front of the MMSEV, I then flew it down to each of thesample sites. With the virtual simulation projected out my frontwindows, it seemed as if I was really on the asteroid. Liz, Allison, andMarc helped a lot by choreographing our mission from the Deep Space Habitat.

Flying the MMSEV was great. It reacted really well to all controlinputs, and it wasn’t too difficult to precision fly near the asteroid surfacewith Trevor’s helmet just inches from the rocks. We worked like that fora couple of hours, and then switched places. Climbing into the Mark IIIspacesuit to egress for my EVA was definitely fun, even though I was onlyin the suit for a few minutes.

Having trained in the space shuttle andspace station airlock mockups, I found using the suitport to be veryquick and easy. Once we were done with our flying tasks, we settled infor our evening tasks. That involved making a freeze dried dinner,setting up our cycle and exercising, and filling out a bunch of datasheets. Exercising in the confined quarters was challenging, and wemostly stuck with using the cycle. We finished the night by configuringour bunks for sleeping, and shutting things down for the night.

Suitports on the outside of the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). Photo credit: NASA

Suitport with spacesuit on the outside of the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). Photo credit: NASA

Research and Technology Studies (RATS) 2012: Virtual Field Work

By 2012 Research and Technology Studies (RATS) crew member Trevor Graff (Planetary Geologist)

This is my third year as part of NASA’s Research and Technology Studies (RATS) team. In 2010, I was a member of the science team and supported the GeoLab operations in the Deep Space Habitat (DSH). I was part of the field science team in Arizona again in 2011, in addition to having the unique opportunity to train and prepare as a backup crew member. This year I’m one of the prime crew members for RATS 2012.

As a geologist, I greatly enjoy being in the field – exploring, mapping, sampling and analyzing the rocks, soil, and terrain. Geologist crew members for RATS get to apply the years of knowledge and experience we’ve gained from our field and lab work to exploration missions beyond our Earth. Our “field” environment for this year’s test is extremely unique.

Unlike many of the previous RATS tests conducted in the field in Arizona, this year we are exploring an actual asteroid. Well… sort of. Let me explain. This year’s test, conducted here at the Johnson Space Center (JSC), has us exploring the asteroid 25143 Itokawa. This is accomplished in a few very cool ways. First, our vehicle (the Generation 2A Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle or MMSEV) is in front of a large simulation screen that displays the asteroid in front of us. Using data and imagery from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hayabusa mission – that visited, landed, and returned samples from Itokawa – the simulated asteroid looks and moves just like the real thing.

RATS crew members Marc and Trevor running an asteroid mission simulation from within the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV).

This extremely realistic simulation allows us to fly around, approach, and anchor to the asteroid, all while monitoring our flight controls, propellant usage and many other factors. Once we approach or anchor to the asteroid, one or more of us will perform a simulated spacewalk, also known as an EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity). This involves two additional very cool aspects of this year’s testing.

For EVAs, we either go to the Virtual Reality Laboratory (VR Lab) or to the Active Response Gravity Offload System (ARGOS). In the VR Lab, we put on a special set of glasses that allows us to view and explore the asteroid as if we were in a space suit external to the MMSEV. From here we can fly to and sample the asteroid – getting our “hands dirty” in the virtual reality world. The other EVA option is to get strapped into ARGOS. The ARGOS facility provides the ability to offload our weight to simulate weightlessness, all while conducting our exploration and sampling of the simulated asteroid surface.

RATS crew member performs a simulated spacewalk using the ARGOS system.

RATS crew member performs a simulated spacewalk using the ARGOS system.

Analog missions like this one are vital in providing the data that will influence the development of mission architectures and technology critical to future human spaceflight. As a scientist, it’s great to be a part of helping evaluate and develop the equipment, techniques, and strategies that will eventually take us to places like asteroids and on to Mars!

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.

NASA Opens Online Voting for Next Desert RATS Exploration Site

NASA is inviting the public to choose an area in northern Arizona where explorers will conduct part of the annual Desert
Research and Technology Studies, known as Desert RATS.

“Desert RATS is an annual test where NASA takes equipment and crews into the field to simulate future planetary exploration missions,” said Joe Kosmo, Desert RATS manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We want the public to be a part of this.”

From July 27 through Aug. 8, space enthusiasts can vote where to send the Desert RATS team, which includes engineers, scientists and astronauts. To cast your vote, visit:

The website features interactive panoramic images of lava, rocks and desert for the public to choose as the most interesting destination to explore. The location that receives the most votes will be announced Aug. 16. Astronauts
will visit that site to perform field geology and collect rock samples.

The Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., took the panoramic images of terrain and geologic features in early 2009 at Black Point Lava Flow in Arizona.

“It is essential to involve the public in NASA’s exploration program to engage and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers,” said IRG Director Terry Fong. “We want people of all ages to be able to actively participate, contribute and collaborate in meaningful ways to NASA’s activities.”

The Desert Rats 2010 mission also involves field testing two space exploration vehicles, which could allow astronauts to spend two or more weeks living, working, and traveling across different planets. Astronauts will use two such vehicles to explore a lava flow and test data collection methods, communications protocols, mission operations, and advanced technology. Desert RATS is sponsored by NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about Desert RATS, visit:

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

Desert RATS Procedural Dry-Runs a Success

By Ben Peters


It’s that time of year again and everyone is gearing up for the field season of Desert Research and Technology Studies (DRATS)! This year’s 14 day mission will officially kick-off on August 30, 2010 and will run through September 13, 2010. 

DRATS is an important NASA Analog program that is entering its 13th year of field testing. The purpose of the program is to train people and test equipment in a simulated mission environment comparable to the surface of the Moon or Mars in order to prepare for future space missions. The analog mission team will be heading out to Black Point Lava Flow, north of Flagstaff, Arizona, on August 24 to begin setting up camp and preparing the crew, hardware, and communication systems for the mission.    


Ben interviewing three of the Building 9 interns who get to work on the SEVs.


Last week, the technical teams began preparation for the field test by performing procedural dry-runs at the Johnson Space Center (JSC).   These procedural dry-runs provide the mission team and crew the opportunity to interact with the hardware and develop detailed operational processes and procedures before heading out to the Arizona desert. 

For example, I witnessed the Extravehicular Activity (EVA)  Team develop a step by step “how-to” guide for the crew who will be using a backpack system to simulate spacewalks out in the desert. The particular system had a GPS unit that allows the user to make a multimedia “field note” complete with an exact GPS tag of the location. It is a very cool system but it is important to develop a checklist and a guide for its users so that valuable time isn’t wasted in the field figuring out how it works.

I have had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing several Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who support various teams involved with DRATS this year…and these are just a few!

·         Flight Surgeon Rick Sheuring shared about how astronauts will simulate medical emergencies during the mission in order to prepare for and learn how to handle a similar occurrence if it were to happen while on the surface of a different planet. 

·         Fernando Zumbado, a robotic systems engineer, provided a brief overview of the potable water dispenser hardware and his role as a “water boy” for DRATS.

·         Scott Bleisath provided details for the EVA backpacks that the crew will wear during their field excursions. 

·         Chris Looper explained the training he is receiving as a traverse crew member.

·         Terry Tri presented an overview of the new Pressurized Excursion Module (PEM) that will make its debut in the desert this year.


Barbara Romig (DRATS Mission Manager) stands on the steps of the Habitat Development Unit (HDU) now configured as the Pressurized Excursion Module (PEM). 


Photos taken during the procedural dry-runs have already been posted to NASA Analogs Flickr. All of the interviews and hardware overviews will be posted to the NASA Analog TV Channel within the next few weeks. 

Check back for the latest updates on the integrated testing dry-runs at JSC the weeks of July 26-July 30 and August 9-August 13. During the integrated dry-runs, mission teams will be practicing traverses in the Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV), EVAs, geological and scientific tasks, as well as hardware integration. 

Continue to follow along as the mission dates draw nearer at the following sites:


It’s going to be a great year for DRATS and I feel very lucky to be a part of it.




What are dry runs and why are they an important part of Desert RATS?

Dry runs are  a critical aspect of any Desert RATS analog field test.  After the objectives of this years field test were established, each team went to work on their aspect of the project.  Engineers created solutions such as PUP, the Portable Utility Pallet.  This device has stowage space, geological evaluation tools, and even a wireless mesh network repeater.  As the field test approaches, each subsytem needs to be fully tested and evaluated.  Sometimes this is as simple as a functionality test, however it can expand into finding ways to improve durability, usability, and even things such as ergonomics.

Changes have also been made based on lessons learned from previous outings.  The new automated suit ports will simplify exiting LER.  Software such as the navigation system have been overhauled for ease of use and increased functionality.

In the end the goal is a successful analog field test.  This goal can only be met by insuring each subsystem has been integrated and tested.  Desert RATS is about working together to achieve a goal that is unreachable independent of each other.  Valuable lessons are learned here on Earth so that these systems are ready for the missions of the future.The Desert RATS is a NASA-led team of research partners working together to prepare for human-robotic exploration. This “working group,” led by NASA personnel, is comprised of both NASA and non-NASA Members.

The Desert RATS field test activity is the culmination of the various individual science and advanced engineering discipline areas year-long technology and operations development efforts into a coordinated field test demonstration under representative (analog) planetary surface terrain conditions. The purpose of the RATS effort is to drive out preliminary exploration operational concepts for EVA system requirements by providing hands-on experience with simulated planetary surface exploration extravehicular activity (EVA) hardware and procedures.