A combination of technologies can be affordably developed through scientific research in terrestrial analog environments to meet the technical and human challenge of long duration planetary surface exploration.
Terrestrial desert sites provide excellent and affordable environments in which to carry out scientific research relevant to the exploration of the Moon and Mars. Demonstration of required system-of-system capabilities will include the need to bring together many technologies-radiation shielded habitats, closed life support systems, external power sources, local and satellite communications, EVA systems, surface transportation, teleoperated robots, advanced information technology systems, etc. -together with astronaut and mission operations crews engaged in long duration missions who will have to contend with lunar and martian diurnal cycles.
The complexity of long duration lunar and martian surface missions will limit the degree to which the Apollo experience can be applied to the new Exploration Initiative. It is evident that, in a cost-constrained program, we cannot afford to do all of our learning solely by undertaking increasingly complex missions on the Moon. It will be much more affordable and safe to learn, test and train in terrestrial analog environments at sites whose remoteness and ruggedness will, in their own right, introduce more than enough risk. During their summer seasons, polar sites will allow us to simulate the lunar and the martian diurnal cycles and their effects on astronaut circadian rhythm and, especially, on mission control human factors.
Maintaining public interest is essential. All the analog mission campaigns have stimulated much media interest (print, television and Internet), none more than the research at Haughton Crater in the Canadian Arctic. Public interest and student participation are inevitable aspects of well-conceived analog mission campaigns.
In the early 1990’s the most capable prototype surface robot was a Russian invention, Marsokhod. With the help of Stanford University one of these machines was purchased by NASA-Ames so that experiments could be carried out in Mars analog environments including the slopes of Hawaii ’s Kilauea , areas near Flagstaff , and at Silver Lake , California . These early experiments led to an appreciation of the realistic strengths and limitations of human-robot exploration using the available hardware and information technologies (for control and for data analysis/ interpretation). In fact, considerable advances had been made in robot navigation and control, for the creation of virtual digital environments using the stereo panoramic imaging data, and for the organization/analysis of the returned data. These advances were furthered by analog experiments using rovers developed by JPL (e.g. Fido) and have served the community well, notably for the missions of Spirit and Opportunity.
Research at Haughton Crater began with an investigation of how microbial life has regenerated in the harsh Arctic desert environment after the impact that sterilized the site 23 M years ago. Research has evolved to include an assessment of how human explorers can best function in a setting that resembles a long duration Moon or Mars mission environment. The following have all been part of the analog research in a relatively informal inter-Center and international arrangement-habitat living and working; crew health and safety; crew autonomy, work load and human factors considerations; suited EVAs with ATVs and with a Humvee for transportation; surface and aerial robot teleoperations; telepresence experiments; communications-local networks and time-delayed by satellite.
Right: Operations team training in lunar and Mars analog sites.
Other analog field campaigns involving human subjects are ongoing in Utah and near Flagstaff where NASA-JSC has been conducting annual field tests with an experienced geologist in JSC’s current pressurized space suit prototype supported by robot assistants.
Two Mars deep drilling analog field campaigns are underway, one at Rio Tinto in Spain and the second on Ellesmere Island , Canadian High Arctic.
Planetary analog campaigns have a long history within NASA. The Apollo Project developed their EVA, surface transportation and geophysics capabilities with the help of testing and training in the lunar analog environments to be found near Flagstaff, Arizona Meteor Crater and the San Francisco Volcanic Field). For the Viking Project the Dry Valleys of Antarctica proved essential in establishing the potential for previously unknown extremophiles to flourish under harsh conditions as much like Mars as can be found on Earth.
In the last decade, as mobility for NASA’s planetary surface robots emerged as a reality, experiments in analog environments began to be appreciated as an essential way of learning how humans could most effectively use mobile robots for scientific exploration. The ongoing Mars Exploration Rover mission has benefited greatly in the design of the rovers, software development and the operations team training as a result of extended experiments carried out at Mars analog sites in the Mojave Desert .
Test site conditions are as much like Mars as can be found on Earth.
Research that has been ongoing at the Haughton Impact Crater in the Canadian Arctic for the last six years is similarly relevant to the new Space Exploration Initiative. While the research has a strong astrobiology underpinning it includes much more than science- infrastructure at Haughton includes a landing strip, a basic habitat, satellite and local communications, a greenhouse, a dozen ATVs, a Humvee and, under canvas, accommodations for two dozen researchers.