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.