last post, I went to Hawai'i Island last week to take part in NASA's in situ resource utilization (ISRU) lunar rover field testing, facilitated by the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) on the flank of Mauna Kea. The mission simulation successfully showed that a rover arriving on the surface of the Moon can find and verify the existence of subsurface water ice within a 5-7 day timeframe expected for a lunar polar mission. NASA is gearing up to fly this prospecting mission around 2017 to confirm the presence of water ice and other volatiles. Once we know for sure that there is accessible water on the Moon, the next step will be designing more sophisticated missions to harvest the resource on a larger scale to make consumables that will drive down the cost of space exploration.
This field campaign consisted of two projects carried out at two nearby Mauna Kea locations. The main project was RESOLVE, which stands for "Regolith and Environment Science & Oxygen and Lunar Volatiles Extraction." RESOLVE represents the third generation of ISRU technologies previously tested in 2008 and 2010. This time, the systems were completely integrated onto one rover, which was remotely controlled with lunar-like communications, power, and other operational constraints. NASA conducted the demonstration as if it were a real mission with control centers in Hawaii, Texas, Florida, and Canada, along with an additional science backroom in California. The Hawaii control center was a bustling room with about 30 people sitting at computer terminals in constant communication working on an array of tasks to keep the systems running smoothly. Here I am sitting at the real-time science desk.