What's the Latest Development?

N.A.S.A.'s annual field expedition known as Desert Research and Technology Studies, or Desert R.A.T.S., began this week in northern Arizona. Reflecting the space agency's shift in priorities from lunar exploration to an asteroid visit, the week will include simulated space rock landings. "A communications time lag, which simulates what astronauts and ground controllers would experience during an actual mission at an asteroid, is part of the exercise." The expedition is also attended by Europe's Space Research and Technology Center. 

What's the Big Idea?

The Desert R.A.T.S. expedition is a heyday for new technologies meant to carry humans further and and more safely into space. Among the technologies to be tested this year is a modified Deep Space Habitat which provides astronauts with work and living space; an exploration vehicle originally created for lunar landings will be repurposed for an asteroid visit by removing its wheels and attaching it to a flying platform; the second generation Robonaut, the humanoid astronaut assistant, will also be tested in the asteroid conditions.