NASA Tests Advanced Spacesuit, Robot Helper at Meteor Crater

by Johnson Space Center.

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Scientists, an advanced spacesuit, robotics engineers and communications experts are trekking into the desert near Flagstaff, Ariz. this month to study how robots and humans can best interact using spoken language, and to gather data for comparing human and robotic performance.

Humans wearing an advanced Mark III spacesuit working alongside an Extra Vehicular Activity Robotic Assistant (ERA) rover will perform tasks representative of future exploration at two sites in the Arizona desert during the first two weeks of September. Exploration tasks will include geophone instrument deployment and field mapping. These tests are a part of NASA strategy to apply advanced technology and cooperative information to improve scientific productivity at a variety of potential locations.

The investigations are intended to gather metrics to compare the effectiveness of robots and humans for each of the tasks performed, and to identify the optimum combination of human and machine explorers for future missions. Studies like these provide information to aid long-range planning and future decision making for many science-driven applications and destinations.

Media are invited to meet the team and the robotic rover on Friday, Sept. 13 between 9 and 2 p.m. local time, at Meteor Crater, Ariz. Media wishing to participate must contact the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) newsroom no later than 5 p.m. Central time Sept. 12 to receive instructions and directions to the research site. Transportation to the site will be the responsibility of those wishing to participate.

The expedition is a joint effort by spacesuit and control center experts at JSC; communications experts at NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC), NASA Ames Research Center (ARC), and NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC); robotics experts at JSC and ARC; and geology experts at the University of Texas-El Paso, the University of Cincinnati, Bowling Green State University/Ohio, Stanford University and the United States Geological Survey at Flagstaff.

Central to this year's tests is the team responsible for the Mark III spacesuit, led by JSC’s Joe Kosmo and Amy Ross. Suit test subjects Kevin Groneman, the lead technician in the Advanced Space Suit Laboratory at JSC, and geologist Dr. Dean Eppler, of ILC Dover, will execute scientific traverses, place instruments, and take measurements. The robotics team at JSC, led by Jeffrey Graham, will be deploying the rover in various exploration scenarios and supporting roles to study how robots and humans can best interact using spoken language, and to gather data for comparing human and robotic performance.

The ERA is a powerful, high-endurance, well-instrumented mobile robot with a sophisticated arm and advanced software architecture and fuel cell technology, making it a capable player on a team with other robots and humans. The robot can also operate on its own with full autonomy, performing tasks to keep the astronaut out of harm's way and focused on higher-level tasks.

Teams from ARC, JSC, GRC and LaRC will work together to integrate the various communications systems for voice and data streams, working with experts in voice recognition and computer modeling, and to accomplish the scientific objectives of the test.

Data from the science instruments and from several video cameras mounted on the suit helmet, science trailer and rover will be relayed via local wireless networks back to the field team and eventually via satellite to a team of scientists at JSC's Exploration Control facility, managed by Anthony Griffith. The science team, led by planetary scientist Dr. Kelly Snook, includes geology and planetary exploration experts from JSC, Science Applications International, Corp., the University of Houston, and Bowling Green State University.