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Haughton Mars Project Report Number: HMP-2001-0728

Status Report From: Haughton-Mars Project (HMP)
Posted: Saturday, July 28, 2001

By: Dr. Pascal Lee

The Phase 4 crew entered the FMARS Hab this afternoon at 1 pm local time. The crew is composed of Dr Carol Stoker of NASA Ames Research Center, Dr. Larry Lemke of NASA Ames, Dr Peter Smith of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, Dr Steve Braham of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, LtCol John Blitch of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and myself (Pascal Lee of the SETI Institute, based at NASA Ames). Phase 4 will run from July 28 through August 1st, 2001.

Earlier in the day we held a meeting at the HMP Base Camp to finalize our plans. Then we collected all our gear and moved to the Hab. The whole crew got to work immediately. Phase 4 is the one we've informally named "Robotfest" because of its research emphasis on the study of how humans and robots will work together on Mars. We're trying to understand better what robots can or should do in the context of a human mission on Mars. This is of course a broad subject matter with many unknowns, including what we anticipate humans will be able to do and also what robots are likely to be capable of.


Peter Smith of the University of Arizona teleoperating the "Talon" robotic rover in "shirt sleeve" (actually cold weather gear!) from a tent to simulate the teleoperation by a human crew member of a robotic explorer on a recon mission to a site of scientific interest on Mars.
(Photo by Carol Stoker, NASA Ames Research Center)

The particular study we are implementing this year involves Lt Col John Blitch's portable robot rovers (declassified tactical robotic vehicles from DARPA which possess a high degree of mobility), Peter Smith's SSI and RAC cameras (exact engineering duplicates of the SSI and RAC imagers that were flown to Mars on the Mars Polar Lander), Carol Stoker's expertise in human-robot interactions, Larry Lemke's Mars airplane mission design experience, the Science Operations team at NASA Ames, Dr Kelly Snook and ongoing field surveys at Haughton, and Mission Support in Denver.

The plan for the FMARS crew today was, in chronological order:
a) to move into the Hab and settle quickly
b) to get our comms link up to support a voicemail link with the Visitor Center at the NASA Kennedy Space Center, an activity that is part of our education and public outreach efforts
c) to plan the acquisition and actually acquire imaging data, with the crew teleoperating robots, at sites of potential exploration interest suggested by Sci Ops team at NASA ARC.


John Blitch's DARPA "Talon" and "Mite" portable robot rovers strapped on the back of ATVs for a drive out to "Site 3" for a simulation of teleoperated robotic exploration.
(Photo by Carol Stoker, NASA Ames Research Center)

Our robotics research program is somewhat tricky to implement in the context of our current "sim" as the SSI and RAC cameras are not mountable on any rover at this time (this is not a surprise ; we knew and have planned for that: Brent Bos, Peter Smith's graduate student, will move the cameras around acting as a surrogate rover) but also because John Blitch's rovers cannot be teleoperated directly out of the Hab because of radio interference issues (this is a technical issue that was identified ahead of time as well but it did not get resolved in time for the field season as we had hoped). Yet, acquisition of our teleoperated robotic data set is critical for the execution of the mission of Phase 4.

In order to still survey the ARC sites with John's rovers and considering the short duration of this phase, we adopted the following plan for today: Carol, Peter and John went out in cold weather gear (not simulated spacesuits) to teleoperate John's rovers from a small tent set up for that very purpose a short distance away from the site of interest, a location designated as "Site 3". They did so to simulate to the extent possible the situation of a crew teleoperating robot rovers on Mars in the "shirt sleeve" environment of their habitat.

The imaging data collected this evening will be analyzed by the crew, by the Science Ops team at NASA ARC, and by Mission Support over the next day or so (in combination with other imaging data acquired over the past days, weeks and months). The Sci Ops team, led by Dr. Jeffrey Moersch of the University of Tennessee and Dr Michael Sims at NASA Ames Research Center will then propose a science traverse (an "EVA" in simulated spacesuits now) to be executed on Monday.


Lt. Col. John Blitch with the small tent that helped isolate Carol and Peter from seeing "Site 3" directly.
(Captured video frame from the Mite rover under teleoperation by Peter Smith. John Blitch, DARPA).

The scheme may seem a little elaborate but we think it makes sense given our constraints. In this instance, we are trying to go through the full cycle of a possible scenario which includes acquiring local reconnaissance data sets from teleoperated rovers and aircraft, analyzing these data sets in light of other previously-acquired robotic data sets, planning a multi-site science traverse with help from Mission Support and a Science Operations team, implementating the EVA (including detailed exploration of the preselected sites and sample collection), and conducting post-EVA data analysis (including the examination by the crew of the samples collected), all within a few days.

At 11:30pm, Carol, John and Peter got back to the Hab. They were chilled to the bones but elated. The teleoperation experiment is a complete success. Carol and Peter spent the afternoon elbow against elbow in a small tent and did not ever see Site 3 with their own eyes. They teleoperated John's "Talon" rover and selected a particular location within the Site 3 area where the SSI would later be positioned (by Brent) to have that high-res instrument acquire a single-filter (red) panoramic stereo image set and also higher resolution multispectral images of narrower of specific portions of the scene.


Rock sample grabbed via the manipulator arm on the Talon rover.
(Captured video frame from the Talon rover. John Blitch, DARPA)

With these steps, the evening's mission was accomplished, as the needed imaging data set for Site 3 was now "in the can". But the team did more. Using Talon's gripper/grabber, Carol was able first to collect a cobble sized rock sample from a stream bed. The sample was brought back to the hab and will be examined tomorrow. Peter then teleoperated the Talon up the hill at Site 3 and homed in on specific rocks which were later also imaged in high-res and through the twelve filters of the SSI.

With Site 3 now "fully" surveyed with imaging data from a variety of sources including this evening's crew-teleoperated robot rover recons, the stage is set for some of the key activities to take place over the next several days. Phase 4 seems off to a good start and the crew is in good spirits this evening.

The FMARS-2001 Phase 4 crew wishes to dedicate this phase to Isaac Asimov, a supporter of the human exploration of Mars and a friend of robots.

Pascal and Crew 4.

// end //

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