NE@Moses Lake

NE@Moses Lake
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NE@Moses Lake

“Look, Sir, Droids!”

Okay, we didn’t see droids at Moses Lake but there was enough robotic activity to send the Jawas of Tatooine into a frenzy. And NASA EDGE was there to give you an inside look into this massive analog test of NASA’s Lunar technology. Chariot, ATHLETE, Scarab, K-10 and several space suits were put through the paces in preparation for NASA’s return to the Moon. In fact, in order to avoid any imperial entanglements, Blair had to be fitted with a restraining bolt.

BLAIR: Welcome to NASA EDGE.

FRANKLIN: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: We’re at Moses Lake in the state of Washington. Behind us is a cool lunar rover concept called Chariot. We also have two spacesuit engineers working on a couple of experiments.

BLAIR: And I’m actually here for a different reason. I’m scouting locations for the astronaut combine as part of my campaign to become Commissioner of Astronautics.

FRANKLIN: The combine is dead.

CHRIS: Yeah, it’s over with. We’re moving on. We’re going to be seeing the next generation spacesuits, and rovers. When these astronauts land on the lunar surface, they’re going to need some cool hardware and technology. They need a place to test that. Moses Lake provides that opportunity.

BLAIR: NASA is avoiding any imperial entanglements, if you know what I mean.

CHRIS: This is not Tatooine.

FRANKLIN: This is not Star Wars.

BLAIR: These are the droids we’re looking for.

CHRIS: Let’s check out these interviews and the cool pieces of hardware.

BLAIR: This is the spot for the combine.

CHRIS: Let’s get out of here man.

BLAIR: There is an astronaut draft.

BLAIR: We’re here with Joe Kosmo or, as I like to say, Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Moses Lake operation. How’s it going?

JOE: Not too bad, Blake. How are you doing?

BLAIR: Very nice. I’m doing well.

JOE: I have to correct myself. Last time I called you Blair…


JOE: … but you’re really Blake.

BLAIR: Yes. I’ll answer to anything it seems. I have a couple of quick questions about how you’ve set things up here. Number one, I look at the soil and it’s so much different than it was in Flagstaff where you were doing the Desert RATS.

JOE: It was a different kind of regolith material or surface material. They’re looking at a different level of power consumption while driving on that terrain. We have sand dunes here and a variety of particulate sized material. They’ve done an awful lot of driving with Chariot and have learned a lot from the power consumption standpoint from driving on this type of terrain. I don’t know what all of the lunar surface looks like. There’s probably quite a variation.

BLAIR: See, that’s where we need to set up our own trip to the moon, a little sight survey, if you will.

JOE: Oh, wouldn’t that be nice.

BLAIR: We could go out there, get our samples, bring them back to locations like this and do our own high fidelity test.

JOE: Can I carry your luggage? The primary focus here is in the robotic vehicles and the larger transport vehicles. Obviously, we get involved because it’s space-suited test subjects driving Chariot. That’s our interrelationship, looking at the ergonomics involved in the suited individuals doing those driving operations. We’re not the prime focus.

BLAIR: For me, you are. You’re the Obi-Wan.

JOE: I appreciate that.

BLAIR: I’m a young Jedi. I sit at your feet and want to learn. I also noticed you have two kinds of suits. You had authentic suits and then you had mock-up suits.

JOE: Right.

BLAIR: You did simulations with both. What are you trying to learn in each of those different situations?

JOE: There are a number of things. We’re trying to develop time lines, basically shirtsleeve condition operations. The mock-up suits that we have allow us to extend our operational time; probably get more people involved in the suiting activities of the mock-up suit as opposed to the full pressured suit, so we can experiment and do longer task activities that would be more representative of EVA tasks. What we like to do is use some experienced test subjects. People who have been in pressurized suits understand what the restrictions are, understand some of the ergonomics involved are. We’ve been getting some good feedback and cross-correlating their experiences in the full pressured suit versus the mock-up suit, and the transition experience of the other folks who haven’t had that much experience.

BLAIR: I would like to set up lunar circus maximus. You have all these gladiatorial terms for all these projects. You have Chariot…

JOE: We need Gladiator. We do not have the Gladiator.

BLAIR: We should work on Gladiator.

JOE: You should work on Gladiator.

BLAIR: What would Gladiator look like?

JOE: With your imagination I can’t imagine what that might be.

BLAIR: Short, stocky, and very effective. That would probably be it.

JOE: And duct tape boots.

BLAIR: Very good. You’re here with Obi-Wan Kenobi.

JULIE: ATHLETE is a utility vehicle intended to carry payloads on the moon. It has six degrees of freedom legs. It can drive over the surface of the moon with full, active suspension, keeping that payload on top nice and level, nice and steady.

CHRIS: What does ATHLETE stand for? It’s an acronym, right?

JULIE: Yes, it’s an acronym. Are you ready?

CHRIS: Yes, I’m ready.

JULIE: All Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer.

CHRIS: The ATHLETE is the bottom portion, right?

JULIE: That’s right.

CHRIS: We have a hab up top?

JULIE: That’s right. It’s a habitat mock-up up top.

CHRIS: I understand that might be Blair’s home in the future because he wants to be the first medianaut to the moon.

JULIE: The first medianaut. Perfect, excellent.

CHRIS: I was wondering you could actually live in this hab, couldn’t you?

JULIE: This is a quarter scale model of the one they’re planning to send to the moon.

CHRIS: This is only a quarter scale ATHLETE?

JULIE: That’s right, four times as big in every dimension.

CHRIS: The idea behind ATHLETE is when we get to the moon and start building this outpost, you’ll have several of these since it’s mobile; moving the habitats; locking them into place.

JULIE: That’s right. That’s exactly right. We’ve got two of them here. We’re going to demonstrate the ability to dock them together. They have a lot of control capabilities. As big as this vehicle is, it can line those doors up with in a sub-centimeter position.

CHRIS: When we first talked to you a couple of years ago, you had a robotic arm attached to it. Are you still going to be doing that?

JULIE: The robotic arm is one of these legs.

CHRIS: Okay.

JULIE: The robotic arm you saw two years ago we had one of these vehicles sitting on the ground. When they’re on the ground, they’re six legs become six fully articulated, robotic arms. We stick those gripper tools onto the outside of the wheels and drive the gripper with the wheel’s motor. We’re just about ready to get rolling.

CHRIS: Thanks, Julie. I appreciate it.

FRANKLIN: Acronyms.

DAVID: You know, Scarab isn’t actually an acronym. We designed the robot. We designed the body and it’s shape for a number of reasons. Largely to ensure that we had ground clearance at different postures, so it has that boat hull shape on the bottom. The front and back are sized for the particular payload and then rather than having sharp corners made out of aluminum; we used a thin layer of carbon fiber. Those curves actually give it a lot of strength. The design process resulted in this shape. We looked at it and thought that looks a lot like a beetle. We put the paint job on it and called it Scarab. So, no acronyms.

FRANKLIN: No acronyms. What exactly is the Scarab vehicle used for?

DAVID: The scarab would preceed astronauts and enter into these polar craters to determine whether there are resources there that the astronauts could use.

FRANKLIN: How is Scarab going to be able to maneuver and work in the dark or in the shadows of the crater?

DAVID: We can’t use cameras in the dark. We use laser scanners so the robot can navigate on it’s own. It uses those scanners to model terrain, decide how to avoid obstacles or how to climb through things in order to get to the next location. It would travel very slowly through this area, using very low power, drilling samples, and processing them through the instrument payload to measure the abundance of hydrogen and oxygen. It would slowly move onto the next place, probably spending six months or more to survey one of these crater floors.

FRANKLIN: Speaking of power, I understand the Scarab runs off of very low power. Well, it will be able to run off of very low power on the moon.

DAVID: Here on Earth we have about 600 watts to work with. We have 6 times the gravity here. On the moon, we’re designed to operate with only 100 watts, so, about the power of one light bulb. That’s in large part why Scarab is a slow moving vehicle. The drilling operation proceeds very slowly because you just don’t have a lot of power to work with. We’re working with Glenn Research Center to reference the sterling engine that they’ve been developing. This is a radioisotope source that produces about 120 watts continuous for 10 years. We’ve put a thing the size of a microwave oven in the back of Scarab and it’s gassed up and ready to go for 10 years.

FRANKLIN: Technology used to analyze the samples is already aboard the Scarab?

DAVID: That technology is being developed at Kennedy Space Center in conjunction with Johnson Space Center along with the drill that’s being developed in Canada. Canadian Space Agency is working on that. Then we’ll be doing a test not just of mobility as we’re seeing here, but also the processing of the samples, process of the regolith simulate, and operation of the instrument payload.

LUCIEN: Chariot is the lunar truck prototype. We had lessons learned from trucks here on Earth and also Sprit, Opportunity, Sojourner from the lunar rover from Apollo. We took all those lessons learned and developed this. Six wheels gives us a bit of redundancy and it also lets us lift and lower wheels.


LUCIEN: So you can see Aaron’s lifting the wheel module right now. It has an active suspension which is a drive screw that drives it up and down. Each of the wheel modules is identical to this. Harrison Schmitt made a comment, “if it was easier to get on the rover, it would have been a lot better.” We had conversations about how they sit and weren’t able to see behind them. What we have created is something where we can turret it around.

CHRIS: Is it a full 360?

LUCIEN: Yes, it’s 360. It goes back over here and stops. We can also do point turns around any point of the vehicle. So wherever you put all your axes if you wanted to turn about that, you put your axes through there.

CHRIS: Chariot can not only be operated by astronauts but it can also be tele-operated maybe in a lunar hab?

LUCIEN: Correct. We have three modes of operation. We can operate from Earth like here at Moses Lake. We operate it from Houston but in a time delay, which we expect for the round trip to the moon will be about nine seconds. We can also operate local off-board, meaning in line of sight or video cameras where there’s no time delay with communications. The third mode is on board. We’ve been doing all those types of things here at Moses Lake.

CHRIS: One final question, how do you thing Charlton Heston would have done in Ben Hur if he had used this chariot?

LUCIEN: I hope well. We’re getting better.

BLAIR: So Barbara, while you’re here at Moses Lake or Tatooine, what are you learning in the study of the suits that you didn’t learn back in Flagstaff or Cinder Lake when we were testing Desert RATS?

BARBARA: This time we have different robots we’re testing with. We have the Chariot, ATHLETE, and K-10 robots. We’re looking at this year the interaction between the spacesuits riding on Chariot as an unpressurized rover mockup.

BLAIR: I noticed you are using the two different types of suits. When you do a simulation, what’s more important about the pressurized suit versus the unpressurized suit?

BARBARA: The pressurized suit gives you more mobility and dynamics that a real suit would give you that would be pressurized on the lunar surface. The other suits we’ve been testing have been mock-up suits. They allow us to run a lot longer and not be contained by the life support system that the pressurized suits have.

BLAIR: How do you take those two sets of data and make them make sense together since their two entirely different functions?

BARBARA: That’s what we’re trying to do here is establish a baseline between what’s different with our pressurized suits and our mockup suits. Here in the field the main interaction between the humans and the robots have just been with Chariot. K-10 has also ridden on the Chariot. The astronauts have deployed the K-10 robot to go off and do it’s site survey, reconnaissance.

BLAIR: That’s NASA’s equivalent to R2-D2. I’m noticing your orange, prison outfit, if you will. It’s pristine where Joe Kosmo’s, no offense, looks like he’s a human tumbleweed.

BARBARA: His suit has seen better days.

BLAIR: Is it because he’s working more or…?

BARBAR: Eh, I’m a little offended here. Are you saying I don’t work now?

BLAIR: No, I’m just saying you may work hard and do laundry. He sort of suggested maybe it was the opposite.

BARBARA: He suggested?

BLAIR: Yeah, that you’re not working as hard.

BARBARA: Oh really. Hmm. The thing is he’s been working over a longer period of time. I’m fairly new to the program so that’s why my suit is still bright orange.

CHRIS: That was pretty awesome seeing all the hardware out here.

BLAIR: Absolutely.

CHRIS: Maybe next year we’ll get a chance to see the next generation… Cool. Maybe next year we’ll get a chance to see the next generation. And in fact, this manipulator arm behind us, maybe they will be able to hoist you up and you can live in the hab next time.

BLAIR: Yeah. And maybe next year the test facility will be at Mos Eisley.

CHRIS: Maybe.

FRANKLIN: And maybe next year we could all ride on the new Chariot.

CHRIS: You’re watching NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things…


BLAIR: Excellent.

FRANKLIN: Where did that photographer go?

CHRIS: Yeah. He’s been taking pictures all day.

BLAIR: I’ve got to go get my picture.

CHRIS: There he is.

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