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Faculty and Students Participate in UND’s ILMAH X (Part 2)

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By Dr. Kristen Miller
Faculty Member, Space Studies

Note: This article is part 2 of a three-part series about four members of the University community taking part in an analog mission as a research project for the University’s chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Their experience, activities and research will be detailed in this series.

Special Activities at ILMAH

During their time at ILMAH, crew members of the University’s Analog Research Group (ARG-1) participated in several unique activities at the University of North Dakota (UND). Each activity increased the authenticity of the crew’s experience as analog astronauts and also provided opportunities for research. These activities included:

  • Participating in extravehicular activities (EVAs) using realistic, pressurized space suits
  • Performing a rescue mission of a stranded crew member
  • Making a “Hello World” communication with another analog mission in Utah

The “Hello World” event was of particular importance because communication of this kind had never before been attempted by analog astronauts at any facility worldwide. 

Extravehicular Activities

In an actual space environment, space suits capable of supporting life during EVAs are essential. One of the resources available for crew use at ILMAH is a set of two realistic space suits known as the North Dakota Experimental-2 Analog Trainer (NDX-2 AT) lunar suits.

The NDX-2 AT suits were designed by the University of North Dakota with the support of NASA. ILMAH hosts two functioning NDX-2 AT suits for crew use.

The suits weigh approximately 13.30 kg (30 lbs.) each and are pressurized at 13.79 kPa (2 psi). Primary life support occurs through a backpack that provides ambient air exchange and is good for a maximum of four hours.

The suits can be donned inside the habitat through a simulated airlock compartment or directly from ILMAH’s pressurized rover. The suits provide an authentic EVA experience for the crew.

The ARG-1 crew completed a total of 7 EVAs during their 11-day mission: six drone EVAs and one rescue EVA. Each EVA required three crew members – two wearing the suits and one inside the habitat providing mission support.

During the EVAs, the crew participated in a UND doctoral research study by flying drones as they wore skull caps equipped with electroencephalography (EEG) technology underneath the suits. The ARG-1 crew was also able to evaluate the spacesuits for form, fit and function during their mission.

Terry Trevino during one of the drone experiments. Image courtesy of author.

Diallo Wallace tested the suit’s range of motion during operations and completion of EVA tasks, providing useful data to researchers. He was able to establish threshold values for movements of tasks that would be essential for operations on the Martian surface. This data is essential for improving the functionality of space suits for future analog and space use.

Performing a Crew Rescue at ILMAH

Developing and testing procedures for rescuing a stranded or incapacitated crew member are essential for crew safety and mission success in space exploration, especially given the unique challenges posed by rescue missions on the lunar or Martian surface. This area of analog research is particularly important because it has the potential to save lives.

The ARG-1 crew initiated a rescue by creating a realistic scenario and detailed rescue plan. After receiving approval from mission control, they executed a successful rescue. 

Bill O’Hara, the Mission Commander, describes the rescue: “This was a novel idea that was uniquely possible at ILMAH. Available for our use was a pressurized rover, connected to the habitat by a tunnel. Our baseline mission did not require any use of the rover, but the crew rescue idea presented a need for it.” 

Bill O’Hara successfully rescues a “stranded” astronaut, UND student Lori Waters. Image courtesy of author.

In the rescue scenario developed by the ILMAH crew, a crew member of a separate and independent European habitat was stranded due to injuries during an EVA mission. The injured European crew member was at a nearby location within reach of ILMAH.

The European crew requested assistance via a radio communication, and the ARG-1 crew accepted the assignment. Bill O’Hara and ARG-1 Engineer Diallo Wallace were selected as the rescue crew, while ARG-1 Science Specialist Rose Worku provided capsule communication support from ILMAH.

Bill and Diallo used the ILMAH rover to travel to the stranded crew member’s last known location, provided by mission control. Bill then donned the EVA suit and searched the area, assisting the stranded crew member (played by Lori Waters, a UND graduate student) to reach the safety of the rover.

The short timeframe from ideation to completion of the rescue added to the realism of the rescue scenario. Lori Waters remained at ILMAH as part of the ARG-1 crew for a few days while recovering from her injuries, then departed to return to her own habitat. Overall, the mission was a successful demonstration of the use of a pressurized rover system to quickly locate and transport a stranded astronaut. 

“Participating in Lori Water’s rescue was a great experience for both the crew and the ILMAH mission support!” – Rose Worku

Simulating a ‘Hello World’ Communication

The “Hello World” communication was a simulated video communication between the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) 228 crew in Utah and the ARG-1 crew in North Dakota. To our knowledge, no analog-to-analog communication of this type has ever been attempted at any analog facility worldwide.

On Friday, October 8 at 10 pm CST, the ILMAH X crew and the MDRS 228 crew met each other in an online video conference using Facebook Messenger to exchange ideas and messages of support. This unique opportunity gave researchers a look at what communications might be like between settlements on Mars one day. While there were some technical problems due to dust storms at ILMAH, the online chat was an overwhelming success and an excellent example of goodwill between space exploration organizations. 

One of the key topics of conversation related to the general importance of analog missions to the future of human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars. Both crews also spoke on the potential benefits of cross-habitat collaborations between analogs worldwide.

The MDRS crew pointed out the travel between settlements on Mars will likely be difficult and dangerous, and that communications like the “Hello World” video conference are important practice for the future. The ILMAH crew mentioned the importance of sharing ideas and expertise, as well as the benefits of discussing research concepts together.

Each analog habitat has a different environment and different features. The MDRS crew discussed how collaboration allows us to combine people’s experiences from different habitats to gain a more complete picture of what a Martian settlement will actually be like. They noted that collaborations between research missions also provide an opportunity to explore international collaborations, since there are analogs all over the world.

Both crews agreed that the conversation was beneficial and enjoyable. Living on Mars is about learning and new experiences, and the virtual conference was an excellent experience for both ILMAH and MDRS crew members. The ability to share knowledge and experiences between analogs is valuable, and it can also decrease the sense of isolation experienced by analog astronauts.

These activities distinguished ARG-1’s mission from previous analog experiences worldwide and demonstrated the capacity of the University’s ARG program to contribute meaningfully to the growing body of analog research. NASA uses this type of analog research to prepare their astronauts for future space missions.

“We became a part of the solution set to helping future lunar and Mars astronauts. The processes and procedures that were iterated upon by our teams will contribute to the success of actual missions.” – Diallo Wallace

About the Author

Dr. Kristen Miller is an associate professor of Space Studies. She holds a B.S. in physics from Brigham Young University, a M.S. in astronomy from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her thesis work studied turbulence in magnetic fields in the protostellar disks surrounding young stars using supercomputer simulations, investigating both the ways in which turbulence allows angular momentum transport within the disks and how coupling of the gas to the field influences the direction of the accretion flow onto the protostar.

Currently, Dr. Miller leads the Analog Research Group, which recruits and trains teams of students to participate in analog research missions. She also leads the Supernova Search Program, a program dedicated to detecting supernovae and other transient objects in nearby galaxies.

Dr. Miller is the faculty advisor of the student chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). She also serves on a variety of committees at the university.

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