With the end of the Shuttle program, NASA is gearing up for the future of human exploration and turning to its analog missions and field testing to help lead the way. The Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP) is one of NASA’s premier analog research programs. The team is about to embark on its most ambitious and exciting year, which will see the addition of new scientific, operational and technological objectives to its busy ten-day field deployment.
What makes the Pavilion Lake Research Project unique is its focus on science and science operations research in the fascinating underwater environment of Kelly Lake, British Columbia, Canada. PLRP team members use DeepWorker submersible vehicles to explore, study and document rare freshwater carbonate rock formations that thrive in this lake. This endeavor requires the integration of scientific methods and operational and technological advancements. From these real field science activities, NASA scientists are learning about what it takes to conduct safe, productive and discovery-based science in extreme environments. It is this knowledge that will form the basis of future exploration concepts for human research voyages to such destinations as near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) and Mars.
This year at Kelly Lake, the team will launch new tools such as the Exploration Ground Data Systems developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., to enable them to rapidly synthesize, manage and analyze large data sets, as well as plan and manage flight scheduling. These tools also will be used to manage the “delayed communications” research that will build 50-second communication delays between the submarine pilot and the mission operations crew to simulate what it is like conducting science on asteroids with human explorers.
The team also will use a new planning tool to better manage a dynamic and complex operations schedule, as well as gain a new degree of situational awareness about all field camp activities. To achieve this, human spaceflight operations planners from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, will share their expertise and experience gained from supporting mission operations for the space shuttle and International Space Station. The operations planning team will support real-time operations by managing and distributing plans via a website developed by engineers at Ames called Score Mobile, to allow for re-planning when activities don’t go as scheduled, and provide situational awareness to the team.
This year’s field team also includes a member from Google Inc, Mountain View, Calif., who will help the team evolve its use of mapping activities and develop cutting-edge data integration platforms based on Google Earth.
In addition to achieving its science and technology goals, this year’s field test also will provide local teachers a unique opportunity to learn how a lake in their community will be used to train astronauts and scientists and prepare them for space exploration. The teachers will participate in hands-on field activity workshops so they can share what they learned with their students and inspire the next generation of space enthusiasts.
Photo courtesy of: Henry Bortman