For the past week, hoards of NASA human space exploration study teams have been gallivanting around the Arizona desert as part of NASA’s Desert Research And Technology Studies, or Desert RATS.
The Desert RATS demonstrations—held in the Arizona desert because it is a prime location here on earth for simulating future exploration destinations—offer engineers, astronauts, and scientists a unique opportunity to test new mission concepts and learn how to work with robotic helpers. Among other hardware at the site are two Space Exploration Vehicles (SEVs), which can be adapted for surface or in-space missions. The SEVs have pressurized cabins, allowing the astronauts to live and work inside of them in a shirt-sleeve environment. For the first time at Desert RATS, the two SEVs will dock with a Habitat Demonstration Unit, which helps simulate for the crew what living and working off planet would really be like.
But this year, not wanting to leave anyone’s ideas out of the excitement of exploration, NASA has made great strides in bringing Desert RATS to the public.
Prior to the start of this year’s mission, panoramic images of the Desert RATS test site were taken and displayed online. The public was given the chance to vote and select locations for crews to visit during their stay in Arizona. The location with the most votes was incorporated into the mission plan. During the voting period, the website was visited by people from 88 countries, and more than 2,500 votes were received.
In addition to choosing where crewmembers should visit, the public can engage with the Desert RATS team through Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube, and also through crew blog postings and live webcasts.
Head on over to NASA’s Desert RATS homepage for more information on how to get involved and also check out the Desert RATS blog, which includes daily postings, pictures, and videos. This year’s mission is half over (it ends September 15), so become part of NASA’s participatory exploration today!
Phil Larson is a Research Assistant in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy