NASA kicks off asteroid mission simulation at Johnson Space Center

Back in March of this year, NASA announced that it was conducting initial testing to prepare for a bigger test this summer having to do with a simulated mission to a near-Earth asteroid. The goal of the mission was to study the human factors that contribute to living and operating on the surface of an asteroid for an extended period. NASA has announced that the mission simulation is ready to kick off at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The Research and Technology Studies (RATS) test is designed to simulate a 10-day asteroid exploration simulation and kicked off this week. The test mission is being conducted in the Johnson Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. The test mission is part of the preparation to send a human to a near-Earth asteroid by the year 2025.

The simulated mission allows NASA to test new operations, concepts, and exploration techniques that will influence the real mission in the years to come. NASA will be using several different technologies to allow participants in the test mission to simulate life and work on the surface of an asteroid. As part of the test mission, a crew of five scientists and flight controllers will in pairs take turns sleeping, eating, exercising, and working inside the cabin of a multi-mission Space Exploration Vehicle.

Each pair of crewmembers will live inside the Space Exploration Vehicle for three days and two nights at a time. During the time inside the vehicle, the pair will evaluate the displays, controls, and views with the help of a video wall that contours around the vehicle window to show a simulated asteroid surface. That display is able to simulate the surface of an asteroid as the crewmembers inside the vehicle steer across it. The mission simulation will also involve simulated spacewalks on the asteroid surface using a virtual reality laboratory and Active Response Gravity Offload System. The system uses a virtual reality helmet and gloves to simulate movement on the asteroid surface and suspends astronauts from a special crane that offsets their weight to simulate microgravity.