Thoughts As I Wait On The MCC

By Autonomous Mission Operations Crew C Commander Alvin Drew
May 17, 2012 – Run #1 – 50-second time delay (one way)
Busy morning so far for this “quiescent” phase of the mission.  Looks like we’ve beat up our equipment here – failed hard drives, worn out parts for the weightlifting machine and scuffed paint on the exterior of the hygiene module – nothing critical though. One day MCC will answer me immediately after I talk to them and it’s bound to startle me.


May 17,2012 – Run #2 – 5-minute time delay (one way)
About 60 million miles from Earth – 5 minutes time delay each way – I’d hate to pay those long distance charges.


May 17, 2012 – Run #3 – 50-second time delay (one way)
About 10 million miles from Earth – I can just barely pick out my house from here.

Time Delay Adds Challenge To The Routine

May 16, 2012 – Test Day #2
By Todd Quasny, AMO Crew B Flight Engineer 3 (and real life MCC Flight Controller)
Today has been a very challenging day.  We have performed a total of three runs in which we perform routine activities that would need to be performed if we were on a long duration spaceflight. These activities include cleaning and replacing air filters, transferring water to our plants so they can grow into food, as well as performing a camera inspection of our space vehicle to make sure there is no damage to the outside.

For each run through of our activities, there is a delay in communications between us and Earth that is representative of what it would be like if we were conducting a mission to an asteroid or even Mars. This creates quite a challenge to perform even the most routine activities and it takes a lot of work and even some creativity to get everything done.


During our second run of the day, one of the crew members simulated getting sick. As Crew Medical Officer (CMO), it was my job to treat the crew member in coordination with the ground. Since we had a 5 minute communications delay at the time (so 10 minutes round trip), talking to medical professionals on the ground and consulting on the best course of action was a daunting task to say the least.  I was required to setup our ultrasound machine to take images to be analyzed by the people on the ground. Not being medically trained myself, this was really exciting to me! The capabilities that we have to handle so many diverse situations during spaceflight, both planned and unplanned, is so very cool!


May 16 – Test Day #2
By AMO Crew B Commander Lee Morin
Several malfunctions today with time delay to MCC of 50 seconds each way. A little easier than 300 seconds so I guess we are getting closer to Earth!

Had a problem with the water transfer, flow rate was too high so shut it off since a too-fast flow rate can damage the plumbing. Worked the issue with MCC and got the required 90% of the water transferred by using the backup plumbing and backup procedures.

Also had a problem with a power converter that created a flood of error messages when it failed. Narrowed the problem down to the 28V converter.  Power-cycling did not correct the problem. We will perform a Repair and Replace tomorrow.

With all the MALs I got behind and FE2 helped me out with the soil pH tasks.

In the earlier run we had a medical emergency, FE3 performed a medical ultrasound for abdominal pain on FE1. This put us way behind but fortunately FE1 recovered for the next run.

Runs 1 and 2 were both involving 300 seconds of delay, the delay to Mars when Mars is at its closest. It is very difficult to coordinate with MCC with such a long delay, and not have wasted time. Often you have to decide whether to press on and just tell MCC what you are intending, or to wait for them to tell you what to do.

Today we also had two educational events, one with just the commander and one with the whole crew. The audience had pretty good questions.

This has been very interesting and the habitat really does create a spaceflight-like experience.


Follow along in the AMO mission on Facebook:

What's Your (Call) Sign?

By Jeremy Frank, Autonomous Mission Operations Project Lead

Mission Control is usually portrayed in movies and television shows as filled with people intently staring at computer screens showing information about a spacecraft and the astronauts inside it. These people are referred to as flight controllers. Each of these flight controllers has responsibility for one part of the mission, or part of the spacecraft. The International Space Station flight control team consists of between 15 and 35 flight controllers, depending on what activities are taking place. Each of these people has a different responsibility. Perhaps the most famous of these flight control positions is the Flight Director; she or he has the responsibility to run the mission, and ensure that the crew is safe. Another well-known flight controller is the Capsule Communicator, or CapCom; this person’s responsibility is to communicate with the crew. Other flight controller responsibilities, while less well known, are equally important. One person is responsible for managing the orientation of the ISS and its orbit around the Earth; another is responsible for managing the activities of the crew, and so on. Each of these flight controllers have unique, and short, ‘call signs’ to uniquely identify them.
For the AMO project, we are conducting a much shorter ‘mission’ (2 hours, instead of 2 weeks for a typical Space Shuttle mission, or 6 months for the typical crew stay onboard the International Space Station). Our ‘spacecraft’, the Habitat Demonstration Unit, is also quite a bit simpler than either the ISS or the Space Shuttle! As a result, we created a much smaller flight control team. Even with this smaller team, we will learn a great deal about how to conduct operations in the presence of larger time delays than those experienced during any previous human spaceflight missions.
We opted to keep ‘traditional’ call-signs for the Flight Director and Capcom, but most of the other flight control responsibilities are a mix of traditional responsibilities. As a result, we chose to name our positions based on the names of Near-Earth Asteroids. These objects take their names from many different sources, so we had a lot of names to choose from! Our flight control call signs and positions are:
FLIGHT – Flight Director. In charge of the flight control team.
CAPCOM – Capsule Communicator. Responsible for communicating with the crew.
PSYCHE – Biomedical Engineer. Responsible for crew health and safety, hygiene, and medical consultation.
IRIS – Robotic systems. Responsible for external camera operation.
KALI – Operations Planner. Responsible for creating and managing daily activities of the crew.
JUNO – Spacecraft systems. Responsible for electrical power and life support.
VESTA – Mechanical systems. Responsible for onboard computers, data networks, avionics.
CERES – Payloads / Science. Responsible for geological laboratory and management of geology samples.
You can learn much more about the history of the Mission Control Center, and the job of flight controllers here.
And don’t forget to follow along with the AMO tests at!

Booms and Jetpacks

Steve Squyres uses a small boom for translation activities.
Image at right: Steve Squyres of Cornell uses a small boom for translation activities.

Today was Day 4 of our mission and it was a challenging one. As usual,the action was centered around the “EVAs”, or extra-vehicular activities inNASA parlance – our simulated space walks.

We had two different kinds of activities in today’s EVAs. One of themwas very slow, very methodical, and very effective. Imagine a long telescopingpole – we called it a boom – with big heavy magnets on each end. We used thisboom to get around on the simulated asteroid surface (i.e., the sea floor),moving like an inchworm.

It goes like this: Fasten both magnets to anchor points on the surface.Unfasten one and move to it to a new anchor point. Fasten it. Unfasten theother one and move it to a new anchor point… and repeat as necessary. It wasslow, but it got us to where we wanted to go pretty reliably.

Once we arrived at our destination, the boom was great. It’s hard to dothings like hit a rock with a hammer in zero-g without going flying. But withthe boom solidly in place, we could wrap our legs around it and whack away atthe rock pretty easily. So a boom could be a good technique for geologists touse to get work done on an asteroid, I think.

The other part of the EVA was totally different… jet packs! We hadbattery-powered thruster packs on our backs that we could use to move veryquickly and easily from one place to another. And yeah, I have to confess, itwas every bit as much fun as it sounds like it was. Quick, easy, and very cool.Problem was, once we arrived at our destination with ajob to do, staying in place was a lot harder.

Sometimes the best answer to a complicated problem is to use somecombination of techniques. So one way I could see this going might be thatastronauts would use jet packs to move long distances over an asteroid surface,and then a boom for smaller motions and getting work done.

Or maybe they’ll use something completely different! It’s only Day 4 ofthe mission, and we’ve got a lot more techniques to try… so we’ll see.

NEEMO 15 and Teamwork!

Image on the right: Aquanauts David Saint-Jacques and Takuya Onishi working together during a simulated Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA)

Alreadyday 3 in our new home! I’m impressed how quickly the team adapted to this alienenvironment, with the beautiful coral reef and marine life outside the window,the omnipresent and complex life support systems of Aquarius, the odd feelingof distance from people living on the surface… all of these make it feel likewe’re in another world!

 I think that sharedexperience has made us quickly comfortable living here with each other. Wereally function like a team, meaning we don’t think about our life and worktogether as “teamwork”, but rather as spontaneous, easygoing and friendlyinteraction. When people are genuinely happy to work together, teamwork justhappens, it’s the natural way people like to help others and work towards acommon goal.

 Everything here isteamwork. During our mock spacewalks it’s most obvious: the outside crew,inside crew, habitat technicians, safety divers, mission controllers andCapComs, scientists, engineers, public affairs personnel, all fluidly workingtogether. But teamwork is also omnipresent in daily life in Aquarius, in themeal preparation, in the care for common areas, in the way we generally lookout for each other.

Our families arealso part of the team! Today instead of the usual dehydrated hiking food, weate a meal prepared by my wife and sent down to Aquarius with the dailysupplies delivery. A nice morale boost!

Teamwork isessential if we want to achieve something bigger than ourselves – and it’s fun,too!



NEEMO 15 – Mission Day 2 Blog



Image on the left: Aquanaut Takuya Onishi performing translation task on a simulated asteroid



Today was our second mission day in the water. Yesterday was a busy day.


I woke up around 5:30 am and enjoyed a wonderful view from the window in our sleeping area for a while. A lot of fish were swimming across the window reflecting an external light of Aquarius. Then another busy day began.


We performed two “spacewalks” in two teams today. David and Steve went out first and I supported them from Aquarius. I gave them instructions step by step, and they did a great job performing some tasks like sample collections and deployment of sensors. Each spacewalk has its own objectives, and today’s main objective was to test one of the translation methods which were supposed to be effective on an asteroid surface. We deployed some lines in our working area near Aquarius and used them for translation.


After a short lunch break, Shannon and I went out. That was my fourth dive in the SuperLite-17 helmet. I felt I was getting used to it. I could breathe more comfortably than the last time. The translation line seems like a great method. We could easily translate between our sampling locations by pulling ourselves up a line and also create enough ground reaction force to perform tasks.


Being in the water for about three hours made me feel cold at the end of the “spacewalk”. One good thing is we have hot shower in Aquarius. I enjoyed it. 


Though I was too busy to enjoy the window view in the daytime, we have two more hours until we go to bed. I’ll sit at the table and spend some time watching colorful fish from the window.

NEEMO 15: Scenes From Training Week

Pre-mission Set-up
Karl Shreeves and Jeremy Hansen (CSA) set up equipment for Andrew Abercromby (NASA) to test. Photo credit: NASA

Pre-mission EVA and Tools Briefing
Crew members David Saint-Jaques (CSA) and Steve Squyres (Cornell) receive tool training on the small extension boom and other tools to be used during the mission. Photo credit: NASA

Getting Used to the Asteroid Simulation Wall
Steve Squyres (Cornell) (left) and Takuya Onishi (JAXA) make it to the top of the wall. Photo credit: NASA

Navigating To Aquarius
Left to right (front) David Saint-Jacques (CSA), Shannon Walker (NASA), Jason Nunn (NURC), and Takuya Onishi (JAXA). In the background is Margarita Marinova (NASA) and Jeremy Hanson (CSA). Photo credit: NASA

Configuring the Translation Tool Simulator
Andrew Abercromby (NASA) and Steve Chappell (NASA) place simulated anchoring and translation equipment across the simulated asteroid surface.

A Moment to Enjoy Some Visitors
Margarita Marinova (NASA), David Saint-Jacques (CSA), Shannon Walker (NASA) (back), and Takuya Onishi (JAXA) enjoy a swim with the neighborhood wildlife. Photo credit: NASA

The NEEMO 15 mission is projected to start Oct. 20. Learn more about the mission objectives and follow through live webcasts on the NEEMO website.

NEEMO 15 Training Successfully Complete

Clockwise from upper left: NEEMO 15 crew and CAPCOM; Steve Squyres in SL-17 training; Shannon Walker preparing for dive training; crew dive skills checkouts; astronaut Takuya Onishi donning the SL-17 helmet; David Saint-Jacques waiting to start his SL-17 dive; crew during SL-17 training (2). Photos credit: NASA

Clockwise from upper left: NEEMO 15 crew and CAPCOM; Steve Squyres in SL-17 training; Shannon Walker preparing for dive training; crew dive skills checkouts; astronaut Takuya Onishi donning the SL-17 helmet; David Saint-Jacques waiting to start his SL-17 dive; crew during SL-17 training (2). Photos credit: NASA

The training week for NEEMO 15 – the 15th mission of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) program – has successfully completed. The mission is scheduled for Oct. 17-29, however current severe weather has delayed the start of the mission until Thursday, Oct. 20 at the earliest. The mission is still expected to be a full 13-day mission.

Mission Preparation

A core set of team members has been in place throughout the training week making final preparations for the mission, including deployment of equipment to the sea floor around Aquarius for the saturation crew to perform testing. A circuit has been set up to evaluate different techniques for translation, sampling, and instrument deployment, including the use of Deep Worker submersibles as Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) analogs. Additionally, on shore, the Mobile Mission Control Center (MMCC) has been set up and is ready to support offshore activities. Finally, a science team has been hard at work in preparation for the science traverse portion of the mission, which will run in parallel with the saturation crew performing NEA exploration activities.

Dive Training

Portions of the week have been dedicated to dive training for the saturation crew as well as the topside support crew. The saturation crew has received training on scuba and the SL-17 dive system that they will use on EVA from Aquarius. The topside support divers have received all necessary training to assist the saturation crew in the execution of their mission activities.

The Deep Worker submersibles on the Liberty Star in preparation for departure from Kennedy Space Center to Aquarius.

DRATS..sample collection

Image shows cremember analyzing gelogic samples on the Geolab as part of the Deep Space Habitat (DSH)

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, for which he is a part of Crew Bravo.


One of the great advantages to sending humans to explore other Solar System bodies is the chance to document, collect, and analyze scientific samples.  Here at Desert RATS we primarily focus on the collection of geologic samples, or rocks and soils.  Although these samples can be studied in the Deep Space Habitat (DSH) Geolab, or back on Earth, it is extremely critical to document the context in which the samples are collected so that the science team can use those samples to piece together a geologic history for the area.  The hammer, shovel, and tongs enable us to break off a piece of local rock or scoop up a sample of soil.  However, prior to doing so we use cameras that are mounted on our backpacks to show the intended sample in its undisturbed location, preferably with the hammer or shovel in the picture to provide a sense of scale, or the size of the rocks.  Once we pick up the rock or soil sample we describe its color, texture, size, and general makeup as well as any other important observations.  This information helps the science backroom determine what type of sample it is.  After collecting the sample we take a picture showing the sample along with its sample bag, with the number clearly visible.  This enables us to keep track of what samples go in what bags.  We also acquire an image showing the sample’s location once the sample has been collected to provide further context of the environment in which the sample was located. After an EVA is complete and we have returned to our Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) we place all the samples on the aft deck (back end) of the rover and take one last photo.  This helps the science team keep track of which samples were collected on which EVAs, because with so many samples being collected it just takes one computer error or malfunction to lose track of your samples.  This picture provides another piece of data to help us keep track of that information. We weight all of the samples in their storage locker and then place them into what we call the sample mailbox on the aft deck. 


This is our standard way of collecting geologic samples during Desert RATS.  However, just like during the Apollo Missions, we also have what we call “special samples” that are collected in a slightly different way.  This year we have two science instrument teams involved in the test.  I am involved with one of these instruments, called Volatile Analysis by Pyrolysis of Regolith (VAPoR).  This instrument has the potential to “sniff” out water or other volatiles that we might use to help survive on another planet. It can also help identify bio-signatures, or signs of past or present life.  However, one problem with collecting our samples is that we ourselves create a bio-signature and are composed of water.  So our standard sample collection protocols can potentially contaminate a sample to the point that the instrument cannot identify minor traces of what it is looking for.  As such, this year we have incorporated a new “special” sample collection protocol for VAPoR samples.  Once a crewmember or the backroom identifies a possible VAPoR sample we are careful to not touch it with our gloves.  We also never let the sample touch the bags.  So we basically encase the sample in aluminum foil to isolate it from interactions with the gloves or bags.  This is a first step for Desert RATS to incorporate new science instruments that are in development at different NASA Centers, and to begin thinking about the steps necessary to collect samples in a non-traditional way. 


Photo of VAPoR instrument

For more information into the VAPoR instrument, visit the team’s blog at:

DRATS Mission Day 6


By Scott Tingle- NASA Astronaut and DRATs crew member

Booyah from Desert Rats!   We finished week 1 of the test and are enthusiastically moving into the final stages.   Crew A completed countless test events and not only survived, but thrived living in the Deep Space Habitat for 4 days and 3 nights straight.   They optimized work space usage, streamlined processes and experienced much camaraderie.   Today (Monday), Crew A begins a series of EVA test events that will help the community flush out performance characteristics of several operational configurations designed to optimize exploration of deep space locations.

Crew B completed several EVA test events and has commenced a 4 day and 3 night test living in the Deep Space Habitat.   Today, Crew A will complete several maintenance tasks designed to evaluate the Habitat for functionality and effectiveness.

The EVA tests have been going fairly smoothly.   As with any complex operation, we have demonstrated the importance of timely and concise communications.   The 50 second delay in communications between earth and our deep space location can make operations extremely challenging.  It has been rewarding to watch the team realize and overcome this challenge as every test event seems to progress more smoothly than the previous event.  The same applies for the processes being completed during our evaluation of the Habitat.   And you’ll be happy to know that our plants inside the habitat are growing like crazy!

Literally hundreds of people have been supporting this test, and the successes discussed here are a direct result of the team efforts.   Specialists managing communications, habitat, rovers, food, shelters, tools, systems and operations have come together to execute this event.   Their efforts have truly been inspiring!