Keridwen Cornelius, Crew Journalist
Keridwen’s EVA objective was to test a variety of communication tools: a gel pen with a stylus, a NASA approved pen, and a pencil on paper, plus a cell phone (SIM card removed).
The challenge of dexterity while encumbered by pressurized gloves is true no matter the fidelity of the pressure suit. As with NASA astronauts, Keridwen experienced the challenge of fine motor control when visibility and dexterity are limited. She had to remove the pen and paper from a plastic bag, then write a message with each pen or pencil. She succeeded in taking legible notes. She then attempted to take notes and photos using the cell phone and stylus but found she could not even successfully press the phone’s home button with the pressurized gloves or the stylus, rendering the phone useless. She then buried the bag for Bindhu to locate and retrieve, on the next EVA.
Bindhu Oommen, Commander
Bindhu’s EVA objective was to retrieve the “lost” bag dropped by Keridwen in the prior EVA, and to obtain a soil sample.
Given that Keridwen did not tell Bindhu the location of the package, Bindhu had to navigate the entire Mars yard, following Keridwen’s tracks into the boulder field in order to retrieve the package.
Bindhu brought with her a set of vials and labels. Despite the challenge of dexterity in a pressurized suit, she was able to obtain a soil sample in a glass vial and apply a label before returning to the airlock.
Andy Squires, Communications Officer, Accessibility
Andy’s EVA objective was to simulate navigational assistance provided to a crew member on EVA who has due to an accident lost his vision. Andy worked to cut and then tie webbing into an ad hoc harness such that he could be guided to safety by another crew member (in this simulation, that guidance was provided by Matthias Beach).
The challenge of dexterity and stability within a pressurized suit is very real. As Andy is blind, he had to manage terrain which he had never explored, use tools through the challenge of inflated gloves, cut webbing, and use of a trekking pole as his cane. He did exceptionally well, and helped both his crew and the SAM staff in their understanding of the limitations of the pressure suits for future EVA missions.
Sahda Haroon, Engineer
Sahda’s EVA objective was to simulate an in-field repair of a communications console which disabled their suit to habitat communications. The crew had in the prior days developed a complex set of hand signals used to communicate between Sahda and the airlock during her EVA.
Sahda was successful in navigating from the airlock to the Mars yard and to the console (a 1980s power panel repurposed for this EVA). She used a variety of tools to remove a power terminal, strip a wire, and repair the downed comms link, all the while using the hands signals to with Commander Bindhu who was visually monitoring her progress from the airlock viewing port.
Pressure suits by Smith Aerospace Garments.
All Extra-Vehicular Activities (EVAs) at SAM are conducted in pressure suits (“space suits”) designed and built by Smith Aerospace Garments. The air is delivered from the SAM Test Module by means of an oil-free compressor and gas transfer manifold.
At the start of the EVA, one SAM crew members enters the SAM airlock. The crew seal the interior hatch. The crew member in the airlock opens a valve that releases the interior pressure until it equals that of the exterior ambient. When the Magnehelic pressure gauge reads zero, the crew member opens the exterior airlock hatch and welcomes Trent inside. The rest of the SAM facility remains pressurized.
Trent then assists with the donning (putting on) of the pressure suit, while another SAM staff member (Matthias Beach) runs the 100′ umbilical from the gas manifold to the airlock where Trent attaches it to the pressure suit helmet. Radio communication with the crew inside of SAM engages the air compressor, confirmation of adequate gas flow, and the helmet is secured to the suit.
The suited crew member confirms both sending and receiving radio communications inside the suit using a push-to-talk function. At this time, the crew member is on his or her EVA and walks from the airlock landing down to the Mars yard. The SAM staff are present for the entire EVA, standing by to assist. This is the ONLY part of the SAM analog experience in which the SAM staff are directly engaged due to the inherent dangers involved in breathing through an umbilical, physical exhaustion, and potentials falls when wearing a pressurized suit.
In the summer Arizona days, EVAs are conducted after 8 pm or before 6 am to avoid excess heat, as the interior bladder traps the energy generated by the human body, and heats up quickly. While cooling garments do work to reduce discomfort, these late and early hours give the crew the most flexibility in form and function.
Once the EVA is complete, the crew member returns to the airlock, doffs (takes off) the suit with the assistance of Trent, and the airlock is again pressurized such that the crew member may return to the interior of the SAM pressure vessel.