Scientists from NASA and ESA traveled to a desert near Flagstaff, Arizona, to simulate what it would be exploring an asteroid. Since 1999, scientists, astronauts and engineers from universities and NASA centers come together once a year in this place to simulate human missions to the Moon and Mars. These realistic simulations in extreme environments help to better plan future space exploration missions and gain experience in controlling complex operations.
This year the crew of astronauts and geologists "landed" on an asteroid to explore its surface in a series of extravehicular activities, and walk away with the help of two Space Exploration Vehicles. During the two weeks of the simulation, the crew lived inside of a Deep Space Habitat, where communications with its mothership and the control center of the mission on Earth is also simulated. To simulate the distance between our planet, an artificial delay in communications was introduced 100 seconds. The crew also had to fix a rather limited band width.
Although still impossible to simulate reduced gravity of an asteroid, the expedition members had to behave as if they were on a small celestial body. For example, they had lashed to the ground every time they used their hammers to take geological samples to prevent the recoil hit hurl back into deep space.
The center of scientific mission control room was "Erasmus" control ESTEC, the technology center of ESA in Noordwijk, which is normally used to control scientific aboard the ISS operations. The team of 11 scientists and engineers from France, Italy, the Netherlands, ESA and NASA communicated with the crew of Arizona as if it were the control center a real mission to an asteroid. "These scientists were as another brain and a new pair of eyes for the crew," explains Sylvie Espinasse, coordinator of the project for ESA.
In a real mission to an asteroid, the explorers will face the fearsome solar storms that disrupt radio communications and force them to seek refuge.
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