NASA Scientists Explore Volcano with Russian Rover

Jim Cast Headquarters, Washington, DC February 9, 1995 (Phone: 202/358-1779) Michael Mewhinney Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA (Phone: 415/604-9000) Keith Takahashi/Evelyn Smith McDonnell-Douglas Aerospace, Huntington Beach, CA (Phone: 714/896-1302/896-1700) Mardie Lane Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Phone: 808/967-7184 Susan Lendroth The Planetary Society, Pasadena, CA (Phone: 818/793-5100) RELEASE: 95-14 NASA SCIENTISTS TO CONTROL RUSSIAN ROVER EXPLORING VOLCANO

From a laboratory in California, NASA scientists next week will drive a modified Russian planetary rover around the most active volcano on Earth.

Scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field CA, will use Russia's modified Marsokhod rover to conduct field tests simulating remote-controlled exploration of the Moon and Mars from laboratories on Earth. Tests will be conducted Feb. 13-18 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The field tests are part of a cooperative effort involving McDonnell Douglas Aerospace, Arizona State University and the University of Hawaii. The tests were funded in part by NASA and cost approximately $400,000.

The tests also are being conducted in cooperation with The Planetary Society, the JASON Foundation for Education, the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Russia's Lavochkin Association, Institute for Space Research (IKI) and VNITTransMash, an organization of the Russian Space Agency.

The Marsokhod is capable of traversing both Martian and lunar terrain. The same Russian team that developed the successful Lunakhod rovers has been developing the Marsokhod for possible future missions to Mars. Its superior mobility also makes it suitable for more ambitious lunar investigations. It is equipped with six cone-shaped titanium wheels, each with its own drive motor, which enable it to climb over large boulders nearly 3 feet (90 centimeters) high. It also has a robotic arm built by McDonnell Douglas to retrieve objects and video cameras to transmit live stereo images.

"The combination of the Russian rover chassis with western avionics is an excellent example of the benefits that are possible from international cooperation," said John Garvey, project manager for the McDonnell Douglas team that is sponsoring the use of the Russian chassis for the activities in Hawaii.

"The rover takes advantage of new technologies from other programs like last year's Clementine mission to the Moon and NASA's upcoming Mars Pathfinder," he added. Both are examples of small, capable, relatively cheap spacecraft for planetary exploration. "We now have a sophisticated prototype of a long-distance rover that could start exploring the Moon in the very near future."

The test site in Kilauea Volcano's summit caldera and southwest rift zone is located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southwest of the town of Hilo. This barren, volcanic terrain is similar to what scientists expect to find on another planet. At an elevation of 4,000 feet (120,000 centimeters), the remote site has sparse vegetation and is comprised of ash deposits, jagged rocks and loose, crumbly lava.

During the first three days of tests, Feb. 13-15, scientists will control the Marsokhod using a Virtual Environment Vehicle Interface (VEVI) software program to simulate a Mars mission. Scientists are hoping to make the tests as realistic as possible.

Upon completion of the Mars and lunar simulation tests, the team will then transport the rover to a site in the park where lava flows into the sea at Lae Apuki. From Feb. 27 to March 11, the Marsokhod will participate in the JASON VI "Island Earth" Project, a nationwide educational outreach program.

Ames, along with more than 20 other locations throughout the country, will serve as a Primary Interactive Network (PIN) site for the JASON project. During the two-week project, approximately 8,000 fourth through eighth grade students at Ames will join thousands of other students at other sites in a series of live interactive television broadcasts from Hawaii featuring scientists working on a variety of experiments, including the rover tests. Sixty students at the PIN sites will be chosen to operate the rover during the live broadcasts.

Pioneered by Dr. Robert Ballard, the scientist who discovered the wrecks of the R.M.S. Titanic and Bismark, the JASON Project offers an electronic field trip for thousands of students to interact with scientists during the expedition.

Co-sponsors of the Ames PIN site include the Bechtel Group, Inc., of San Francisco; the Oracle Corporation, Redwood Shores, CA; and the Pacific Telesis Foundation, San Francisco. Each of the three organizations contributed $25,000 to support the PIN site so that Bay Area children could experience this unprecedented educational activity.