NASA kicks off simulated asteroid mission

Wednesday, August 22, 2012
NASA's Research and Technology Studies (RATS) team
kicks off a 10-day analog mission simulation at
the Johnson Space Center
Houston: A simulated mission to an asteroid is under way at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The Research and Technology Studies (RATS) test, a 10-day asteroid exploration simulation in Johnson's Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, kicked off this week. As NASA makes plans to send humans to asteroids by 2025, RATS and other mission simulations provide the agency with a way to test new operations, concepts and exploration techniques to influence the future of exploration.

The 2012 RATS test will use several technologies to simulate life and work on the surface of an asteroid. A crew of five scientists and flight controllers in pairs will take turns sleeping, eating, exercising and working inside the cabin of the multi-mission Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) for 3 days and 2 nights at a time. They will evaluate the cabin's displays, controls and views with the help of a video wall that contours around the vehicle's windows displaying a simulation of the asteroid surface as they steer across it.

Outside of the SEV, crew members will participate in simulated spacewalks on the asteroid surface using Johnson's virtual reality laboratory and its Active Response Gravity Offload System. The laboratory uses a virtual reality helmet and gloves to simulate movement on a virtual asteroid surface. The system suspends astronauts from a specialized crane designed to offset their weight and simulate microgravity.

The team will use these technologies to evaluate various modes of movement during spacewalks while the SEV-based crew members assist from inside the vehicle. A team of flight controllers and scientists also will support the tests from the nearby Mission Control Center, with a 50-second, one-way delay in communication between the two groups to mimic what astronauts working on an asteroid would experience.
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