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NE Live@D-RATS 2010
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Desert RATS 2010 Analog Field Test
- Jim Rice
- Jake Bleacher
- Jose Lombay-Gonzalez
- Courtney Gas
- Robert Howard
- Keith Cowing
- Joe Kosmo
- Barbara Romig
- John Schutt
- Nate Howard
- Andrew Abercromby

It's all about the upgrades. Every year the Desert Research and Technology Studies (D-RATS) Team takes their analog field test to another level. In 2010, they deployed two Space Exploration Vehicles (SEVs,) an upgraded ATHLETE, a Habitat Demonstration Unit and even Centaur 2 made an appearance. NASA EDGE witnessed these additions in action, and we can assure you that twice the number of rovers certainly means twice the exploration and twice the science. But the real scientific question... can D-RATS explain the inability of Franklin's lungs to acclimate to the altitude at Black Point Lava Flow, AZ?


BLAIR: Welcome to The Best of NE Live Desert Rats 2010.

FRANKLIN: Where we worked at the Black Point Lava Flow, which is about 45 minutes north of Flagstaff Arizona.

BLAIR: And we were out there for like 40 days and nights, and we interviewed tons of folks.

FRANKLIN: And I followed the rover teams in the field as they sampled, walked, and traversed.

BLAIR: You did that very well.

FRANKLIN: And you didn’t. Let’s check out the video.

JIM: Black Point goes back to the Apollo days. Apollo crews were taken out to this area here. So, it’s got a historical legacy to it. As you look behind us, you can’t even tell you’re really on a lava flow here. It’s really old. It’s been weathered, and eroded down but the SP lava flow is about 70,000 years. That is when our modern day humans left Africa to settle in Asia and Europe. I guess I’m romantic about this kind of stuff. Right now, we’re out here testing this rover. Okay? That’s going to help pave the way for human migration out into the solar system.

BLAIR: Sure.

JIM: It’s interesting here at this point, we have a snapshot of human evolution and migration and also geologic processes and evolution also.

JAKE: I’ve always enjoyed geology since the time I was in college. I got into a geology class and I really liked being outdoors. And I’ve always like outer space and I was glad to learn you could combine the two in this field we call planetary geology or planetary science.

BLAIR: That’s kind of a back door way into the astronaut program because if we go to those planets, you’d be likely candidates.

JAKE: Sure. If we are going to send people somewhere, the moon or Mars, asteroids, wherever it may be, if they’re going to be on a solid surface, one of the obvious things they’re going to do is study geological processes and how those processes have shaped that surface. We, now, are coming into a time where we hopefully will be sending people somewhere using assets like we’re testing here at Desert Rats. Geology, field geology is coming back into play.

JOSE: So, one of the features that it has is a basic map navigation. Also you have a clock feature, which represents three different times, local time, mission base time, and it has a stopwatch, which you can control. It also has a procedure check list that displays your different procedures. This button here….


JOSE: … which is a blue button called note.


JOSE: That allows the crewmember to do a field note. That way when they finish their day the science people recover that data instead of having to go through the whole recorded video. They can just get the highlights from it.

BLAIR: Now, I’ve got this here but this is much bigger. I think it’s cool in a lot of ways but why so big? What is the reasoning behind it?

JOSE: There are different things you have to take into consideration, for example, you’re out in space you’re using a pressurized suit that has a pressurized glove on it.

BLAIR: Oh, okay.

JOSE: You need some spacing to be able to press the buttons. If you take iPhone, you probably won’t be able to use it.

BLAIR: Oh yeah, I’ve had trouble with my wimpy, human hands, gloveless. It’s hard not to be distracted right now because just behind us, and you’ll probably can see it moving around back there is Centaur 2, which is being tested over the last two weeks out here at Desert Rats, really cool piece of technology. It’s funny. You had robot envy because it would have been nice at Lunabotics to have something like that.

COURTNEY: Yes. Oh, definitely. That’s amazing.

BLAIR: Now, with your internship, did you actually get to go on one of those traverses or did they just make you file back at the lab?

COURTNEY: I was doing anything but filing. Definitely, I have experienced the traverse. Just yesterday I had the opportunity to follow one of the rovers, Rover A, actually, into a large crater, which is a really, really cool thing to do. Being on the Chase Team, you get to follow the rovers around in trucks. There’s a big group of people that follow them just to see what they’re doing. We got to follow these crewmembers and watch all their procedures as they went around and collected rock, and looked at the geology. It actually was a really strenuous hike, I’ve got to say. I was so tired after following the traverses because really they cover a lot of ground and they’re busy all day long.

ROBERT: My area is human factors in design and evaluation. So, we look at the interior design trying to figure out how large it needs to be, what separation needs to exist between workstations, and then we do develop conceptual designs. We start out with foam core or wood mockups, then we progress to medium fidelity mockups, like the rovers and the HDU, you see behind us. As you know from the previous coverage, the rovers are going around the countryside collecting geologic samples but they’re collecting many more samples than we can bring back to earth. In the PEM, we’ll do a sample analysis, and that glove box is what enables them to do that. There is a camera network in the geology glove box, and we can transmit images as well as data they’ve collected via their sensors. And that’s transmitted over our communications network. Once we’re actually in space, it will be transmitted to a team of geologists all around the world. You might have professors in Arizona. You might have professors in London. You might have professors in Moscow, all looking at those same samples, helping the astronauts to determine which ones are the best ones to bring to earth.

BLAIR: There’s a unique feature. The HDU is being powered by the Challenger’s center power droid. This is the first time that has happened officially in the field. So, tell us about that.

KEITH: Last year we were here and did a few tests with NASA hardware but this year about 2/3 of the internal power is being provided by our power droid. The air conditioning is being provided by a separate link but it’s possible we could provide the entire operating electricity for the HDU, and for anything attached to it.

JAKE: When we got to the Pressurized Excursion Mode, the PEM, we docked with that. We were able to go inside, which was nice. Because now we could stand up, stretch out really easily. In the rover, you can stand up without hitting your head but there’s not a whole lot of room for really stretching out. This gives you a little more living space to deal with.

BLAIR: Especially if you’re spreading out your rock collection.

JAKE: Right.

BLAIR: Building little towers and what not with them. You need more room.

JAKE: Yeah, doing what keeps you sane for a week or two weeks.

BLAIR: Exactly.


BLAIR: We did spend an awful lot of time in the desert, Franklin.

FRANKLIN: Well, you were at base camp. I was in the field with the rover teams and I brought you a segment called On the Go with Joe everyday, let’s check it out.

BLAIR: For the record, base camp was smack dab in the middle of the desert.

FRANKLIN: You had port-a-potties.

BLAIR: True that.

[Franklin laughing]

JOE: This is kind of our daily planning activities. We have this book here that we follow through on as far as traverses. But for day 8, if you notice, we’re here at the PEM camp, Pressurized Excursion Module. We’re going to be doing some simple traverses for both Rover A, and Rover B . If you look on the map here we have two line colors here, blue, and yellow. Blue is Rover B, and yellow is Rover A. There are a few stations along the traverse path as we progress over the day’s activities where we’re going to conduct EVAs. Basically, each one will be about a 45 minute EVA.

FRANKLIN: What are the objectives of the EVAs for Rover B today?

JOE: They’re looking at some interesting geological site locations that the field team, the field geologists, have picked out and tried to do some sampling there, do some GigaPan photography. Specifically, I don’t know, myself, exactly what we might find but we did understand that there are areas here that we’ve uncovered that even the USGS in Flagstaff haven’t seen before and are very interested in our findings. So, we’re kind of exploring.

FRANKLIN: Tell me the difference between what you’re doing this year and what you achieved last year out here in Arizona.

JOE: This year we have the Pressurized Excursion Module out here, and we’re doing a lot more traverses, simulating more or less, a long distance traverse. We’ll be driving in a cumulative amount of distance on our planned drive, somewhere around the order of about 273 kilometers, which is a good long drive. You’re familiar with the terrain out here and how unfriendly it can get. They’ve proven their robustness and we’ve been pretty happy with their performance capabilities.

FRANKLIN: No flat tires?

JOE: Ah, on chase vehicles, we’ve had a few of those. They weren’t destined to do some of the things we’re doing but we’ve had about four or five flat tires over the past 8-day period.

FRANKLIN: We’re still on the go with Joe; end of Day 9, here at D-Rats 2010. Joe, how did we do today?

JOE: Well Franklin, we did deviate quite a bit from our original plan. We were originally going to have four EVAs of a little shorter duration, maybe 45 minutes each. But there were some significant science team planning activities that wanted to get some good GigaPan shots as opposed to maybe doing some EVAs at these science stations. So, they spent a good bit of time up there. We’ve done a lot of time driving and traversing, and doing some navigation waypoints. We did do a GigaPan just about an hour ago at a very interesting panoramic area that overlooked all of this valley; pretty dramatic, I thought. And now here, we ended up here at night camp at 9. Everybody is getting ready to settle down here for the evening. We’ll start off again in the morning from this location.

FRANKLIN: The strategic team will probably switch up the plan for tomorrow based on what was originally planned. Right?

JOE: More than likely, they’ll surprise us and we’ll have perhaps a new traverse plan for the morning. It seems like the old plan is somewhat shifted throughout the rest of the second week due to the fact we lost one day because of weather. So, things have changed a little bit and now the Strategic Team is planning some other alternative site locations during our various traverse days that are left.

FRANKLIN: For the past couple of days, we’ve been On the Go With Joe but now I’m going to call it On the Beat With Barbara. How ya doing, Barbara?

BARBARA: Pretty good. Thanks.

FRANKLIN: What are we doing today?

BARBARA: Today, we are doing two really long EVAs. This morning the crew for Rover A, that’s EV 3 and EV 4 traversed down into Colton Crater here and then back up out of the crater. And then after lunch they’ll be walking along the rim of the crater collecting rock samples.

FRANKLIN: The walk down this morning was pretty good. It was a beast coming up, wasn’t it?

BARBARA: It was pretty tough.

FRANKLIN: What kind of samples are they looking to get while they’re on their EVAs today?

BARBARA: They’re going by the guidance of one of the crew who’s a geologist. They’re collecting samples that look interesting and that came from the inside of the crater. There’s also a cone in the middle of the crater that they’ve collected some samples from as well. And then on the way up out of the crater, I heard they found a piece of granite. That’s kind of interesting.

FRANKLIN: Okay. Well Barbara, we’ll talk to you later on in the day or after all the EVAs today to see what took place on the mountain. Okay?

BARBARA: Okay. Sounds good. Thanks.


FRANKLIN: Joe, did we have a successful Day 11 in the field?

JOE: Yeah, I think we had a very successful day, in terms of the fact that we stayed on our time line. We didn’t circumvent or shortcut any of our Science way stations for our EVAs. All in all, when I look at my watch, we got here early, and it may be a little shorter day for all of us, which does make a very successful event for everybody.

FRANKLIN: What’s next for the two rovers, Rover team A & B?

JOE: Well, tomorrow, again, we’re going to be doing more traversing, heading back to our base camp. We’ll spend the day traversing across Highway 89, making night camp for tomorrow night over near the Spider Web Ranch. And then the following day we actually go from there into base camp. Spend a half a day traversing to base camp, and then the rest of that day we spend doing some PEM operations.

FRANKLIN: Okay. Sounds good. On the Joe… On the Joe [laughing] On the Go With Joe, finishing up D-Rats, Mission Day 11 in the field.


BLAIR: Coming back with even more interviews from Franklin.

FRANKLIN: Yeah! I’m glad you like it. I had a good time in the field. We should actually call this section of the show, Franklin Edge.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things Franklin.

FRANKLIN: Yes. That’s why they call me “Everyman.”

BLAIR: All right, I’ll send you a text and an email to confirm the name change.

FRANKLIN: Blair, we’re here at the first EVA location at the Black Point Lava Flow. The crew of Rover B has just exited the vehicle and they’re about to go out, survey this area, go up to this outcrop or pile of rocks over here in this area and take some samples. After they get the samples, they’ll bag ‘em, tag ‘em, return to the rover, get in and move to the next location.

FRANKLIN: Blair, if you look right now, there is a man and a woman following the crew of Rover B. They are a part of the Science Field Team that is here to observe the crew in the environment to make sure they are meeting objectives, and also taking details to see what the crewmembers see so they can cross-reference their information at the end of the day. When they pull the data together, they’ll make sure everything is on par with one another.

FRANKLIN: I’m here with John, who is a geologist and part of the Field Team that’s out shadowing Rover B today. John, tell me a little bit about what you’re doing.

JOHN: We’re shadowing the Rover team here to try to evaluate the quality of their observations in terms of the geology. What it is, is we have this whole back room of scientists, these are the eyes, essentially, of that science team back there. So, what we’re trying to do is evaluate whether they’re actually seeing, and describing the geology so that this backroom Science team can get a full understanding of what they’re seeing.

FRANKLIN: Blair, you see there are quite a few people out here with the crewmembers. We have a medical officer, a safety officer. We have the Mission Manager, members from the Science Team. They all work together to make sure things go as planned during the EVAs out in the field. Blair, the Rover B team is made up of two crewmembers, one astronaut, and one geologist. On your left, you’ll see Stephanie Wilson. She’s the astronaut. On the right is geologist, Kelsey Young. This is Chuck, our Medical Officer attempting a two foot, leg split on the rocks. I don’t believe is one I would do but he has the balance of a cat.

FRANKLIN: The rocks here are very loose, and I’ve got to make sure I don’t hurt myself. I’m trying to get up a little closer so I can give you a little bit of insight into what the crew is doing on their EVA. The crew of Rover B is at the base of SP Mountain. And they’re getting some samples, communicating with the tactical team back at base camp.

RADIO: EV 1 & 2, this is Zicom. Just giving you a time check. You have a little over 5 minutes left.

FRANKLIN: When they pick up the samples, they show them on their web cams on their backpacks. They kind of describe the environment. You have to excuse me for sucking so much wind but we’re at 7,000 feet and I’m out of shape.

FRANKLIN: I’m on the side of SP Mountain with Nate, one of the suit techs here for D-Rats 2010. Nate, what kind of observations are you making while the crew are doing the EVA?

NATE: Well, mostly, I don’t really observe. It’s mainly keeping track of my two subjects right there, making sure they have everything they need, making sure everything works well. Make sure they are hydrated; com is working. If com isn’t working, I’m the first line of defense getting in there, making sure the lights come on and the switches are in the right position.

FRANKLIN: Talk to me if there is such a thing as a “typical” issue that might arise in the field. What is one that you see often?

NATE: This year I would have to say the com issues top the list. A lot of that is beyond my control. It’s not really pack related. It’s probably that.

FRANKLIN: For the most part, pretty uneventful EVAs this year?

NATE: I’d say so. Not a whole lot of drama and that is good. I like it that way.

FRANKLIN: That means you’re doing your job.

NATE: [laughing] Yeah. Yeah, it means I’m doing my job real well. I like how you gave me that sedge-way.

FRANKLIN: Hey, look, I think that will make the tape cut today.

FRANKLIN: The rovers aren’t the only thing that are roaming across the desert out here in Arizona. Tri-ATHLETE is also out here for D-Rats 2010. And today, on day 9, the crew is having a bit of a problem getting Tri-ATHLETE up and running. Let’s talk to them and see what is going on.

FRANKLIN: I’m here with Matt. You’re one of the technicians, a research engineer?

MATT: I’m a mechanical engineer for the ATHLETE team.

FRANKLIN: Tell me what you’re doing this year.

MATT: This year we’re testing our robot. We’re trying to get through a 40-kilometer drive. We’re basically riding the thing hard and seeing where it breaks and trying to fix it.

FRANKLIN: Have you encountered any major problems this year?

MATT: No showstoppers this year. There was one small part that had a stress concentration that we had known about but thought wasn’t going to cause a problem but did sneak up and cause a problem. We’ve fixed it. We’ve bonded in an extra piece of material to strengthen that area.

FRANKLIN: Okay, so what are you doing out here on Day 9.

MATT: Day 9, we’re trying to make it back to base camp. We rendezvoused with the PEM yesterday and we’re heading back. We’re trying to finish up a 40-kilometer drive.

FRANKLIN: Okay. What’s the status of Tri-ATHLETE right now though?

MATT: Right now, we’re trying to get the robot up and running. It looks like it’s ready to go. We’ll be on our way pretty soon.

FRANKLIN: The hardware is ready.

MATT: The hardware is always ready.

FRANKLIN: But the software is…?

MATT: You know, software. You know, to err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer.

FRANKLIN: We got the truth in the field right here with the mechanical engineers for Tri-ATHLETE.

RADIO: That’s a great photo. We’ve got it. Thank you.

RADIO: Okay. Let me go ahead and do a field entry for it.

[heavy breathing and radio noise]

FRANKLIN: I am sucking wind, hiking out of this crater. It’s a beast. I’m going to keep on pushing on, later.

FRANKLIN: Guys, we’re here at the bottom of the Colton Crater, here at the Black Point lava flow in Arizona. As you can see right behind me, this is actually the crater in the bottom. We are in the bottom. Did I say we were in the bottom of the Colton Crater? This is a pretty decent hike to get down to the bottom. EVA 3 & 4 on Rover Team A is actually on the other side of this little hill right here, which is the bottom. They’re taking samples and shortly are going to make their way back up, out of the crater to the SEV. That little white spot right here at the top of that crater of this volcano is the SEV. We took this path right down into the crater. We’re down in the bottom. Thank God for pants. I’m glad I put them on this morning. I didn’t know I was going to be hiking down to the bottom of a volcano crater.

FRANKLIN: I’m here with Andrew. Andrew, the last time you were on NASA EDGE, Blair interviewed you while you were at NEEMO.

ANDREW: That’s right.

FRANKLIN: What are you doing out at D-Rats 2010?

ANDREW: I’m here as a part of the SEV team. We’ve come up with a test protocol here. Where, as well as doing all our engineering evals and making sure our hardware works the way we want it to work, we’re looking at different ways of operating a pair of vehicles. That’s required a lot of planning before we got out here. Planning these long traverses with the Science team. The big picture is we’re looking at different ways of operating them in terms of how far apart they are and the amount of communication they have back with Earth. That’s the study we’ve designed and I’m trying to make sure we do all of that.

FRANKLIN: How did you like hiking down here to the bottom of Colton Crater?

ANDREW: That was fine. I’m more worried about getting back up. [laughing] That’s going to be the hard part, I think.

FRANKLIN: This is actually some good exercise. I’ve got my iPod in. We just finished shooting and on my way out.

FRANKLIN: Good luck, Franklin?

[Blair laughing]

FRANKLIN: Come on, man.

BLAIR: Oh, it’s funny. It is too funny.

FRANKLIN: Who edits these packages?

[Both laughing]

BLAIR: You just called Ryan out right on…

FRANKLIN: Who edits these packages? I’ll give you a little cell phone video and under the bus I go.

BLAIR: Yeah, absolutely.

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