NASA is actively planning to expand human spaceflight and robotic exploration beyond low Earth orbit. To meet this challenge, a capability driven architecture will be developed to transport explorers to multiple destinations that each have their own unique space environments. Future destinations may include the moon, near Earth asteroids, and Mars and its moons.
NASA is preparing to explore these destinations by first conducting analog missions here on Earth. Analog missions are remote field tests in locations that are identified based on their physical similarities to the extreme space environments of a target mission. NASA engineers and scientists work with representatives from other government agencies, academia and industry to gather requirements and develop the technologies necessary to ensure an efficient, effective and sustainable future for human space exploration.
Analog teams test robotic equipment, vehicles, habitats, communications, and power generation and storage. They evaluate mobility, infrastructure, and effectiveness in the harsh environments.
Analogs provide NASA with data about strengths, limitations, and the validity of planned human-robotic exploration operations, and help define ways to combine human and robotic efforts to enhance scientific exploration. Test locations include the Antarctic, oceans, deserts, and arctic and volcanic environments.
Analog missions and field tests include:
Two NEEMO 13 crewmembers participate in an undersea session of extravehicular activity.
NASA's Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Aquarius Undersea Laboratory is the analog test site for NASA's Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO. NASA uses the laboratory's underwater environment to execute a range of analog "spacewalks" or extravehicular activities and to assess equipment for exploration concepts in advanced navigation and communication.
Long-duration NEEMO missions provide astronauts with a realistic approximation of situations they will likely encounter on missions in space and provide an understanding of how to carry out daily operations in a simulated planetary environment.
Inflatable Lunar Habitat
NASA conducted a range of analog tests to evaluate the inflatable lunar habitat. Astronauts may one day live on the moon in something similar to the conceptual housing structure. The tests were conducted at McMurdo Station in the cold, isolated landscape of Antarctica to provide information about the structure’s power consumption and resilience.
The analog test was also used to evaluate how easily a suited astronaut could assemble, pack, and transport the habitat. If selected for future missions, the structure will reduce the amount of hardware and fuel necessary for transportation and logistics on the moon.
In June, 2008, astronauts, engineers and scientists gathered at Moses Lake, Wash., to test spacesuits and rovers.
Moses Lake, WA
Short Distance Mobility Exploration Engineering Evaluation Field Tests—Phase 1
The Short Distance Mobility Exploration Engineering Evaluation analog field tests were designed to measure the benefits of using pressurized vehicles versus unpressurized vehicles and to incorporate the findings into upcoming lunar missions.
The sand dunes of Moses Lake, WA, provide a lunar-like environment of sand dunes, rugged terrain, soil inconsistencies, sandstorms, and temperature swings. Here, NASA tests a newly enhanced extravehicular activity suit and the new line of robotic rovers: ATHLETE Rover, K10, Lunar Truck, Lance Blade and Lunar Manipulator.
Black Point Lava Flow, AZ
Short Distance Mobility Exploration Engineering Evaluation Field Tests—Phase 2
The terrain and size of Black Point Lava Flow provide an environment geologically similar to the lunar surface. It is here that NASA first introduced the Small Pressurized Rover, a conceptual vehicle with an extended range and capability to travel rugged planetary terrain.
The Black Point landscape enables small, pressurized rovers to undertake sorties with ranges that extend greater than 10 kilometers. The sorties tests include a 3-day exploration mission.
Tested in Hawaii in November 2008, ROxygen could produce two thirds of the oxygen needed to sustain a crew of four on the moon.
In-Situ Resource Utilization Demonstrations
The volcanic terrain, rock distribution, and soil composition of Hawaii’s islands provide an ideal simulated environment for testing hardware and operations.
NASA performs analogs to identify a process that uses hardware or employs an operation to harness local resources (in-situ) for use in human and robotic exploration. The demonstrations could help reduce risk to lunar missions by demonstrating technologies for end-to-end oxygen extraction, separation, and storage from the volcanic material and other technologies that could be used to look for water or ice at the lunar poles.
Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada
Haughton Mars Project
The rocky arctic desert setting, geological features, and biological attributes of the Haughton Crater, one of Canada’s uninhabited treasures, provides NASA with an optimal setting to assess requirements for possible future robotic and human missions to Mars.
During the Haughton Mars Project, scientists, engineers, and astronauts perform multiple representative lunar science and exploration surface activities using existing field infrastructure and surface assets. They demonstrate scientific and operational concepts, including extravehicular activity traverses, long-term high-data communication, complex robotic interaction, and onboard rover and suit engineering.