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Michael Braukus
Headquarters, Washington
(Phone: 202/358-1979)

Kelly Humphries
Johnson Space Center, Houston
(Phone: 281/483-5111)

Sallie Keith
Glenn Research Center, Cleveland
(Phone: 216-433-5795)

Sept. 13, 2004
RELEASE : 04-293
NASA's Desert "Rats" Test New Gear
Arizona's high desert isn't quite as tough on equipment as the moon or Mars, but few places on Earth can give prototype spacesuits, rovers and science gear a better workout.

A NASA-led team will head for sites near Flagstaff, Ariz. next week to test innovative equipment. Engineers and scientists lead the Desert Research and Technology Studies (RATS) team from the Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston, and the Glenn Research Center, Cleveland. The team includes members from NASA centers, universities and private industry. Their efforts may help America pursue the Vision for Space Exploration to return to the moon and travel beyond.

The sand, grit, dust, rough terrain and extreme temperature swings of the desert are attractive, simulating some of the conditions that may be encountered on the moon or Mars. Crews wearing prototype-advanced spacesuits will use and evaluate the new equipment for two weeks starting Sept. 14.

"For field testing, the desert may be the closest place on Earth to Mars, and it provides valuable hands-on experience," said Joe Kosmo, JSC senior project engineer for the experiments. "This work will focus on the human and robotic interaction we'll need for future lunar and planetary exploration, and it will let us evaluate new developments in engineering, science and operations," he said.

Engineers in the Exploration Planning and Operations Center at JSC will provide mission control-type monitoring of the field tests. The test equipment includes:

  • New spacesuit helmet-mounted speakers and microphones for communications
  • A "field assistant" electric tractor that can follow test subjects in spacesuits. It is guided by spacesuit-mounted controls
  • A wireless network for use on other planets that can relay data and messages among spacewalkers, robots and rovers as they explore the surface
  • A two-wheeled chariot that could be pulled by the electric tractor to carry astronauts
  • "Matilda," an autonomous robotic support vehicle that can retrieve geologic samples
  • Analytical equipment mounted on two mobile geology labs

    The team will conduct a series of live satellite link videoconferences between researchers in the field and students at eight NASA Explorer Schools. Three of the videoconferences, at 2 p.m. EDT Sept. 16; 1 p.m. EDT Sept. 21; and 2 p.m. EDT Sept. 23, will be available live through webcasts at:

    The 2004 Desert-RATS team includes participants from NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.; the NASA Research and Education Network team; Oceaneering Inc.; Hamilton Sundstrand Inc.; ILC/Dover Inc.; the University of Cincinnati; the University of Maryland, College Park, Md.; Worchester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Mass.

    For information about NASA programs on the Internet, visit:


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