Mobile
News
9/26/2012
03:17 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

NASA Uses iPads To Train For Asteroid Exploration

Astronaut visitors to an undersea training habitat use iPads to simulate time-delayed communications and emergency training for planned 2025 asteroid mission.

An iPad might or might not be the right choice in 2025, but in 2012 it made sense as a computing platform with a large variety of applications available. Critically for NEEMO 16, Reagan found an iPad app that simulated the "voice loop" used for radio communications between mission control and the spacecraft--the system for managing multiple conversations by different mission specialists, all going on simultaneously. The crew and mission control personnel used the iPad software, in combination with headsets, to talk to each other. All communications were fed through a communications delay emulator, a "black box" that spooled transmissions between the crew and mission control before letting them go through.

The NEEMO crew also experimented with texting as an alternative to audio communications, figuring that the time delay for replies might feel more natural in that medium. Because they couldn't find an iPad-based texting program that was compatible with their signal delay emulator, they used laptops for that portion of the experiment.

The planned asteroid rendezvous would require traveling about one-tenth of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, far enough that radio transmissions would take 50 seconds, one way. That's enough to interfere with normal conversation, particularly a technical conversation where it might be helpful to ask for clarifications. "You're looking at 1 minute, 40 seconds, best case, before any question can be answered," Reagan explained.

In other words, it helps a lot if you can make your initial communication as clear as possible.

"We know from 40-plus years of human space flight experience that we're not going to be able to train a crew on every single thing they might have to do on a space mission," Reagan said. "On a long mission, you're going to have to do things you weren't trained on specifically. The classic example is maintenance, where something needs to be repaired or replaced." That is, you could spend the rest of your life training in electronics and machine shop techniques and not cover every contingency, he said.


The crew gathers in front of the hatch to the Aquarius undersea laboratory at the start of the NEEMO 16 mission. (Photo courtesy NASA, Credit: Mark Widick)

"If you think about what you do in your own life, if you have a problem with your car, the first thing you might do is go to YouTube, and some kind soul might have posted a video showing how to fix it," Reagan said.

More to the point, think of the scene from the Ron Howard movie "Apollo 13," dramatizing the life-or-death challenge of saving the astronauts from suffocation because their air was running out. This is after Tom Hanks, in the role of astronaut Jim Lovell, delivers the movie tagline about trouble on board, and after the crew has retreated from the damaged command module, using the Lunar lander as a lifeboat. Because the lander was designed to support two astronauts, not three, engineers on the ground had to improvise a procedure to "make a square peg fit in a round hole" so the carbon dioxide scrubbing filters from one spacecraft would work with the life support system of the other. They pulled it off on the basis of radioed instructions from the ground, from which the astronauts made handwritten notes about what to do, in what order.

"That's exactly the kind of thing that was in the back of my mind when we were working on this," Reagan admitted. "That's the extreme case, the limiting case, of what we're trying to learn to do better."

Previous
2 of 3
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Deb Donston-Miller
50%
50%
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/3/2012 | 11:15:28 PM
re: NASA Uses iPads To Train For Asteroid Exploration
Great story. But now we can't say that BYOD isn't rocket science anymore :)

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
Charley McCue
50%
50%
Charley McCue,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/27/2012 | 9:10:37 PM
re: NASA Uses iPads To Train For Asteroid Exploration
And some duct tape.

The repair of the ISS power system recently used improvised tools to accomplish the task. There may not be any mission that didn't require some improvising.
InformationWeek Elite 100
InformationWeek Elite 100
Our data shows these innovators using digital technology in two key areas: providing better products and cutting costs. Almost half of them expect to introduce a new IT-led product this year, and 46% are using technology to make business processes more efficient.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Must Reads Oct. 21, 2014
InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of digital strategy. Learn why you should learn to embrace DevOps, how to avoid roadblocks for digital projects, what the five steps to API management are, and more.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
A roundup of the top stories and trends on InformationWeek.com
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.