NASA tries to mimic space terrain challenges in desert

Even a short communication lag can turn a long distance phone conversation into a frustrating exercise, causing callers to trip over each other.

Now imagine the gap lasts 50 seconds each way, and the person you're talking to is millions of miles from the planet on the surface of an asteroid.

That's the scenario a team of NASA engineers are playing out during the next two weeks in the Arizona desert during an annual simulation of technologies needed for deep space exploration missions.

"On the space station, there's a short delay, but it's very workable and they understand how to deal with that," said Tracy Gill, a Kennedy Space Center engineer participating in the Desert Research and Technology Studies, known as Desert RATS.

"This is much, much different when you've got basically a minute between saying something and hearing it, and then another minute on the way back," he said.

During the simulation, mission controllers in Houston and the Netherlands will communicate with crews of astronauts and geologists performing operations at the Black
Point Lava Flow near Flagstaff.

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