NASA Tests Moonwalk Technology in Arizona Desert

NASA Tests Moonwalk Technology in Arizona Desert
NASA Tests Moonwalk Technology in Arizona Desert

NASA Tests Moonwalk Technology in Arizona Desert

by Clarence Oxford

Los Angeles CA (SPX) May 15, 2024

NASA is conducting a week-long field test in the San Francisco Volcanic Field near Flagstaff, Arizona to practice moonwalk scenarios for the Artemis campaign.

NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Andre Douglas are participating as crewmembers, wearing mockup spacesuit systems to perform technology demonstrations, hardware checkouts, and Artemis science-related operations.

Two integrated teams are working together to practice end-to-end lunar operations. The field team, consisting of astronauts, NASA engineers, and field experts, is conducting simulated moonwalks in the Arizona desert. A team of flight controllers and scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston is monitoring and guiding their activities.

“Field tests play a critical role in helping us test all of the systems, hardware, and technology we’ll need to conduct successful lunar operations during Artemis missions,” said Barbara Janoiko, director for the field test at Johnson. “Our engineering and science teams have worked together seamlessly to ensure we are prepared every step of the way for when astronauts step foot on the Moon again.”

The test includes four simulated moonwalks that follow operations planned for Artemis III and beyond, as well as six advanced technology runs. During these runs, teams will demonstrate technology that may be used for future Artemis missions, such as heads-up display capabilities using augmented reality or lighting beacons to guide crew back to the lander.

The science team at Johnson developed the science objectives for the field test, following a planning process designed for Artemis missions. Their preparation included creating geological maps, a list of science questions, and prioritized moonwalk locations for both the primary and backup “landing sites” for the test.

“During Artemis III, the astronauts will be our science operators on the lunar surface with an entire science team supporting them from here on Earth,” said Cherie Achilles, science officer for the test at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This simulation gives us an opportunity to practice conducting geology from afar in real time.”

The test will evaluate challenges associated with lunar South Pole operations, including data collection and communications between the flight control team and science team in Houston for rapid decision-making protocols.

At the conclusion of each simulated moonwalk, the science team, flight control team, crewmembers, and field experts will come together to discuss and record lessons learned. NASA will apply these lessons to Artemis missions, commercial vendor development, and other technology development.

This field test is the fifth in the series conducted by the Joint Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Test Team led out of Johnson. This test expands on previous field tests and is the highest fidelity Artemis moonwalk mission simulation to date.

NASA uses field tests to simulate missions to prepare for deep space destinations. The Arizona desert has been a training ground for lunar exploration since the Apollo era due to similarities to the lunar terrain, including craters, faults, and volcanic features.

Through Artemis, NASA will land the first woman, the first person of color, and its first international partner astronaut on the Moon, paving the way for long-term lunar exploration and serving as a stepping stone for astronaut missions to Mars.

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