A team made up of people from the POT and its Japanese counterpart, JAXA, is currently in an Arizona desert conducting tests of a rover and other technology that could one day head for the moon.
NASA’s Desert Research and Technology Studies (D-RATS) have been operating annually since the late 1990s, but the work is becoming increasingly important as the space agency is poised to launch a new era of lunar exploration through its program Artemis.
Current members of D-RATS include NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Stan Love, along with their Japanese colleagues Aki Hoshide and Norishige Kanai.
“D-RATS will consist of three simulated missions, each lasting three days, and will be located at the Black Point Lava Flow, 40 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona,” explained NASA in a post on its website. “This unique location will allow teams to emulate the conditions that astronauts will experience near the lunar South Pole during the Artemis missions, including challenging terrain, interesting geology and minimal communications.
The astronauts’ desert “day in the life” missions will run through October 22 and include extensive testing of JAXA’s pressurized rover. The astronauts will live and work inside the vehicle for 72 hours at a time so engineers can determine if it is capable of safely handling the demanding lunar conditions.
“Operated like a real mission, Desert RATS crews will carefully navigate the desert, exiting the vehicle in their simulated space suits when they encounter scientifically intriguing regions to explore,” NASA said. “At NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, a Mission Control team will track the movement and activities of the crew, help them stay on schedule and troubleshoot if problems arise.”
The tests will help engineers discover ways to design, build and operate better equipment, as well as establish requirements for essential operations and procedures for any manned lunar mission.
NASA’s Artemis program should start next month with the first launchandnt of his next-generation Space Launch System rocket. The Artemis I mission has already suffered several delays due to technical problems, but when it finally gets underway, it will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a flyby of the moon as part of a test flight.
If successful, Artemis II will send a crew on the same trip, while Artemis III, which could take place as early as 2025, will strive to put the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface. After that, NASA and its partners will set about building a permanent lunar base, which could act as a springboard for the first manned mission to Mars, possibly in the late 2030s.