NASA Podcasts

Now known as LER (Lunar Electric Rover)
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NASA EDGE isn’t exactly in the market to buy their own Small Pressurized Rover, but Chris did take a test ride around a lunar like desert area of Arizona. Of course, Astronaut Mike Gernhardt did all the driving, while Chris enjoyed the ride and took copious notes. Also, Steve Cavanaugh discussed some of the materials that are currently being tested on the rover. The Co-Host, however, didn’t quite make it. D-RAT Mastermind Joe Kosmo thought the Co-Host could use some more advanced directions to get to the NASA testing site.

BLAIR: Chris flies directly into Flagstaff. I have to go to Phoenix. Chris gets a nice big rental car. I get the two-person hybrid. I have one question to ask these guys. Why in the world did they decide to test out here? I guess the good news is I’ll be ready for my EVA on the moon. I’m isolated enough that’s for sure.

JOE: Barbara, I’m glad this year we’re not going to be bothered by that guy, Bill, Blake, Bond. I forgot what the heck his name is but we’re not going to see him here this year.

BARBARA: Why not? I kind of liked the guy?

JOE: Well, I gave him some special instructions and I think they’re going to lead him in a different direction.

BLAIR: [labored breathing] Hi. I’m covering the NASA testing for the Small Pressurized Rover in the wilderness of Arizona. I have special instructions from Joe Kosmo not to go near No-cohost, AZ. I think I’ve avoided that, but I’ve jack knifed my hybrid and I’m running out of supplies. Hopefully I’ll be able to report real soon. You’re watching NASA Edge, an inside and outside look at all things NASA. Don’t go near No-cohost.

CHRIS: This is the coolest thing I’ve ever been on.

MIKE: For the first time since I’ve been at NASA, we’ve got a very clear vision, focus and path forward. We’ve got technical challenges but that’s when we’re at our best.

CHRIS: What made you come up with this idea of a small-pressurized rover?

MIKE: I was the lead from the Astronaut Office on the exploration EVA suit. Having done lots of EVAs for the Shuttle and the station, one of the things that really seemed out of place was all the overhead it took to get into the suits. Knowing what we had to do on the moon, I wanted to come up with a system that would cut that overhead down. And then, with the safety issues of the solar proton events and things of that nature, it occurred to me if we could create a pressurized safe haven that would be a great way to do operations. And if we could get the same visibility from inside as we could in a suit then we’d spend less time in the suits. One of the key features is we have the main pressured vessel surrounded in water. Water is a great absorber of solar protons. We take that water and because we’re going to be at the south poles, we have a radiated surface on the roof, so the water is going to freeze. We have our avionics mounted to the thermal interface, so we don’t need to have cold plates & pumped water loops to cool our avionics. What we’ll end up with is this very simple, passive thermal control system that also provides the solar proton protection.

CHRIS: One of the big advantages of a pressurized rover versus an unpressurized rover, is you can go out for longer distances. Right?

MIKE: Exactly. In fact in this SPR system there’s always two of them. So we can go out, we think, as much as 1,000 km and if either of them breaks; there’s two people in each one; if one breaks all four people can get in the other one and come back. We always have a redundant way to get back to the base and the Lander.

CHRIS: Everything’s digital; computer based. Tell me about the drive system here.

MIKE: We have push button or touch screen displays. Everything is pretty much push button.

CHRIS: So it makes it much easier for the astronauts. You don’t have to have an instrumentation panel.

MIKE: Exactly. We get rid of a lot of the switches and go to the software controls.

CHRIS: I guess there’s no need for windshield wipers on the SPR?

MIKE: That’s a great question. It turns out that the dust on the moon is charred and we think there’s a way to run conducting fibers through the windows to electro statically repel the dust.

BLAIR: I see a vehicle of some kind in the distance. If I play this right, I might be able to flag them down to get some assistance. Maybe they know something about why I can’t go to No-cohost or where the NASA training is.

CHRIS: I noticed earlier that you had someone here in the viewing window. So you have this viewing window here so when you come up to a piece of rock and want to look at it closely you can get into that unit.

MIKE: Exactly. We take one of the cushions from the back, lay it on the floor, and the geologist puts his head right into the dome.

CHRIS: Any plans to have instrumentation if I’m in that viewing window, I’ll have mechanical arms to pick something up?

MIKE: If I can get out of this vehicle in 10 minutes or less and pick up the exact rock that I want, why would I want to fiddle around with a robot arm?

CHRIS: Right.

MIKE: Now having said that, we’ve pictured robot arms as a work package when the crew isn’t on the moon, the ground could operate the vehicle in a much slower mode using the robot arm.

CHRIS: You have really done a great job in terms of the human factor standpoint. You have comfortable seats. You’ve got a great viewing window. You had to keep that in mind when designing this.

MIKE: Yes, that was one of my top priorities. We were really careful with the human factors folks. We knew it was going to be really important to have good sleeping bunks and the ability to have private sleep stations. So you feel like you get a little privacy.

CHRIS: You do have facilities on board so you can do to the bathroom.

MIKE: Absolutely. We have a waste control system in the back. We even have a personal hygiene shower hose so we can take a sponge bath. We’re taking a step-wise approach where we’re going to live in it for three days where we’re recording all these human factors. If all those look pretty flat at 3 days then we’re going to push it up to 10 to 14 days next year. I would love to go to the moon. I’m working very hard on these things to make that possible. If I’m lucky and we get there fast enough, I’ll have a shot of it myself. And if I don’t it’s going to make it better for those that come behind me; either way we’re going to win here.

BLAIR: I don’t know. It doesn’t look like they care one way or the other.

CHRIS: We’re here with Steve Cavanaugh from NASA Langley Research Center. Steve, what was Langley’s contribution to SPR?

STEVE: Langley’s contribution came in three areas but it was mostly the structure of the exterior of the cab. Everything in white is “skins” that went over a frame that was made by JSC. That was one thing. We made composite skins out of fiberglass and carbon; the other thing we did was the plastic windows. The third thing was we used aluminum honeycomb that we cut and made to fit for the floor panels, for the seats and also for the aft bulkhead. This is one of the floor panels. It’s got a quick disconnect on here. All the other ones are screwed down but these flip up. The reason for that is they have a bicycle for exercising and this is where they store it. They have to get access to it.

CHRIS: It’s really lightweight. This is unbelievably light.

STEVE: Weight was a big thing on this project. We used aircraft grade aluminum honeycomb, which is more expensive but a lot lighter in weight but just as strong.

BLAIR: Just working on a few interview questions for the NASA folks if I get there. If I don’t I saw some falcons flying over. Maybe one of them is trained. I use to have a trained falcon, Mordecai. Maybe one of these falcons can pick up my questions and take them to Chris at the testing site in the unfortunate event that I don’t make it, which reminds me… last will and testament. Being of sound mind and thoroughly dehydrated body I leave all my NASA tapes to the Set Therapist.

CHRIS: Looking at the windows for this, is that bulletproof?

STEVE: No, those aren’t bulletproof. However, I can say this. The requirement was to use polycarbonate plastic. Polycarbonate is an extremely hard plastic, which you can take a baseball bat to and it’s pretty close to being bulletproof.

CHRIS: You know by the time we get to the moon we might have invented some materials that we don’t know about yet that we can use for the SPR.

STEVE: That’s right.

CHRIS: In the next generation, I was talking to Mike earlier, he wants to have another hatch on the other side. Could you do me a favor when we get around to the next SPR when you make the second hatch? Instead of putting the NASA meatball, could you put an EDGE logo there? Can we have the NASA meatball on one side and we can put the EDGE logo on the other side?

STEVE: Sure, why not?

BLAIR: [breathing labored]I don’t believe it. The test facility is smack dab in the middle of No-cohost, AZ. Joe Kosmo!

STEVE: We’ve got a solution for that.

CHRIS: Oh cool. We’ll see. Let us know when you get to the next generation. Let’s see if Blair knows some people at JSC. We’ll still have to work on that. In fact, I need to find Blair ‘cause I don’t know where he is.

STEVE: All right.

BLAIR: They’re on their way here, getting real close. I’m going to flag these folks down to see if I can get a glass of water and maybe a ride to the NASA testing. You’re watching NASA Edge, an inside and outside look at all things NASA. Hey! Hey! Over here!

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